Pink Tracks (Part 1)
"...My point is that this work, well to be honest, it's grossly overdue Miss McAllister."
The older man rubbed his forehead exasperatedly. He dropped the pile of late work on to the desk to punctuate his lecture, but the teen standing before him with her hood tightly tied around her head and her eyes distantly gazed away, had no real interest in what he had said.
"Ms. McAllister? Suri McAllister, are you even listening?"
She flinched, speaking under her sharp inhale, "It's just Suri."
"Nothing," she said, as she pulled her grey bookbag from the student desk beside her. "I turned in my work, can I go now?"
I don't have the time for this, she thought as her teacher made a sound of annoyance and heavily sat in the black swiveling chair behind his old wooden desk. He shook his head at her in disbelief and sighed.
"Fine," he said, before softening his tone. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Suri swallowed hard, lowering her head. She gripped the black strap on her shoulder and stepped to the side, passing her teacher to enter the hallway of chipped, grey lockers. The further she stepped from the classroom, the quicker her steps became. Her brown eyes followed the lines in the linoleum floors as she made her way to the exit; her free hand shook as she opened the metal doors to face the crisp winter air.
Tomorrow. What made him so sure that he would see her tomorrow?
The school grounds were winding and empty. There was no one to stop her from swiftly stomping down the damp gravel path leading back to the urban center that was hiding just beyond the tree line. The melted snow splattered over her sneakers as she stomped her feet towards the emerging cement sidewalks.
Lacuna had a way of swallowing people whole. The island used to be a vacation area but eventually the tourists just ended up staying. Seasonal weather and forest bound lakes drove them to build the condominiums that reached up through scattered market places. Eventually those condos just pushed the suburban side streets further and further out. It was a bustling, commercialism driven island. However, as Suri pressed further and further into the congested sidewalks of Lacuna City, the epicenter of commerce and scumbags, she demonstrated precisely how easy it was to disappear into the aimless crowds.
That’s what she counted on. Invisibility. Being seen and noticed, to her, was exhausting.
Using her reddening fingers to tug her hood more tightly around her face, she continued to step around the flow of people like a rock parting a river—heavy and dull in the vibrancy of the sellers’ booths. Except the people taking pictures and spending money on artisan crafts weren’t what she was focused on as her eyes passed over them remotely. Though her feet clung to the dirty cement beneath her, her mind was wandering away, fixated on reaching her intended destination.
Normally, she would have been on her way home by now, but today was different. Today she had finished the last of her missing school work. Today she had hugged her friends tightly on their way out of class, much to their surprise. Today she was going to fall into the abyss that life had carved out for her.
All that Suri needed to do was make it to the train station.
Her thoughts absorbed her, circled her into an engrossed frenzy that distracted her from the life bustling in the area she moved through. Therefore, as she curved around the green rails of the train station stairway, she didn’t notice the lively individual rushing up the steps and moving straight towards her. He loosely dodged her, but his arm brushed against hers just enough that it made her stagger to escape the encounter. Unfortunately, she was too close to the edge to afford the luxury of space.
She slipped from the landing, trying to twist to catch herself by holding out her thin arms. Not as if it would help. The diamond texture of the stair grips readied themselves to tear into her palms and round face. Her body swung forward, splaying her hair out beneath her grey hood and her bookbag tried to flip over her head as her feet lost traction. The only thing she could do was squeeze her eyes shut and accept her fate.
Whatever, she thought. It wouldn’t be the first time something happened that she couldn’t change.
Then as quickly as she fell forward, she was pulled backwards. If she hadn’t been holding her breath, the firm arm being wrapped around her would have winded her as she was effortlessly tugged away from the stairs and whipped through the air. The ground broke her fall when she landed roughly on her hip, but the firm arm braced across her midsection kept her from hitting her head.
When the person behind her moved, her eyes peeked open over her round, blushing cheeks to follow the receding arm towards the boy it belonged to. He was leveled with her, having fallen to the ground in his attempt to correct the blunder he had caused. Beneath the messy bangs of his dark curls, his long lashes beat as he blinked at her in surprise, like she had been the one who had caught him off guard and not the other way around.
Before she could care to look at him more in depth, he moved to a stand. He was fairly tall, so after he brushed off his thick, black coat and donned an easy, apologetic smile, he had to bend at the waist to politely offer her a hand up. She took it reluctantly.
“Thanks,” she murmured beneath her increasing embarrassment. When her gratitude was met with silence, she stopped wiping the dirt from her uniform pants and looked at his curious expression through the frazzled strands of her hair.
Crap, she thought. Her hair.
Reflexively, she shied away from his gaze and grasped the hood that was once covering her head to find that it had dropped to her shoulders during the commotion. When his round eyes tucked themselves beneath the furrow of his brows and his lips pursed in confusion, she threw her fabric shield back over her head and ducked to run down the staircase.
Everyone always looked at her that way.
She tied the drawstrings dangling from her neck into a firm knot against her chin to avoid the mishap again. Then she scanned her eyes over the various station platforms to be sure no one else had seen. She needed to quickly become invisible again and her gaudy pink hair wasn’t going to help her achieve that.
Pink. Like a used ballet slipper or a faded rose petal. Like many of the things in her life, this wasn’t her choice. Somehow, she had gotten just the right genes to inherit the disastrous colored locks after three generations of brunettes. It would often make her stand out and cause people to stare at her strangely like that boy had. The oddly colored, rarely seen strands had even been a source of bullying and teasing for many years. That was, until her father had swiftly put an end to it with a strike of intolerance.
She buried that thought. She pummeled it down with a hard swallow. Her hair wouldn’t be an issue after today.
Moving with more awareness through the platforms, she kept away from large groups of people and wayward gazes. There was a particular spot that she had already chosen out for her plan. She had been eyeing it for weeks now. It was a perfect, secluded section of track on a low traffic express train. It was a spot nestled just beside the tunnel leading into the station. And the best part? At this late afternoon time there was no one else around.
She leaned against the brick wall and slowly inched her way forward until the bumpy tactile paving could be felt beneath her shoes. Her eyes darted to the arrivals board. Ten minutes until the next train, but she was sure it would feel like forever. She only needed to be smart, casual until then. Decided.
A deep breath grounded her to the edge of the tracks. Within ten seconds, she was fidgeting. She tugged at the edges of her blue jacket and adjusted and readjusted her shoelaces; she even took off her bookbag and set it beside her against the brick arch of the tunnel she looked into with an anxious anticipation. The choice she had made was heavy enough and she wouldn’t need anything inside that dumb bookbag in a few minutes. Her heartbeat picked up its pace at the thought, but her mind halted with the natural appeasement of self-preservation.
Was this really what she wanted to do? Her body became rigid. She swallowed hard but her mouth felt extremely dry, like she hadn’t had water in years. Was she crazy for wanting this? Was she crazier if she didn’t do it? What if it didn’t work?
At the thought of her worst fear, she shifted to throw her head back against the wall. A nervous bounce of her knee. A sharp inhale.
What if it didn’t work?
Then, a soft giggle broke through the stagnant air. The swaying melody of it was so contrary to what she felt swirling around inside of her that she couldn’t help but lift her eyes to glance across the tracks towards the identical platform that the sound had trickled over from.