Chapter Ten - Fake It
I climbed into bed, desperate to forget about the day. Only instead of falling asleep I stared at the roof of my slowly darkening room. Everything swam through my head, making the waters murky. I couldn’t focus on one thing, because everything overtook something else. I wasn’t sure how long it took for my eyes to close, for my worries to temporarily melt away, but eventually they did.
I woke the next morning, still fully dressed on top of my bed. The moment my eyes opened, everything came flooding back.
Barely giving myself time to wake up properly I leapt out of bed and ran out of my room and down the hallway. I pushed my parents door open, the bed was unmade, and neither of my parents were there. I hurried down to the kitchen, hoping to find mom there, but she wasn’t. I placed my hand on the jug and it was cold. There was one mug in the sink, my fathers. I frowned and sat down at the table.
Maybe she’d left him… If she had then I was happy for her. Why had she left me here though?
Confused I went back up to my room and grabbed fresh clothes. Once I was showered and dressed I left for school. I walked slower than normal, knowingly extending the time it took to get from A to B, just so I could avoid the drama I’d run away from the day before. Each step I took felt heavier than the last, until finally, a few feet from the gate I stopped. Unable to walk any further. My heart raced as I stared at the school, it looked like a prison. Walked to the stone entrance and leaned against it. I was still early.
“Procrastination Queen?” Kalens voice called from my right. I turned my head to look at him. He was smiling, so much that it was lighting his whole face up. His eyes danced as he walked toward me. “Avoiding the inevitable?”
“How are you so unaffected.” I mumbled, pushing myself off the wall. “I want to go home, climb into bed and stay there…. Until graduation.”
Kalen shook his head. “If you think I’m unaffected then my plan is working.” he grinned.
“Your plan?” I said raising an eyebrow.
“Fake it, till you make it.” He proclaimed.
“Right.” I muttered. “It’s that easy huh.”
“No one said anything about easy Willow.” He replied. “But at least you don’t have to do it alone.”
I let out a sigh and turned to face the school again. I could already feel the looks we were getting because he was standing close to me. I tried not to care, but it was futile. Each look, each gaze felt like fire on my skin, rising up the back of my neck.
“Fake it.” I whispered.
“We all do it.” Kalen murmured. “Porn stars more than most I’m guessing.”
My mouth fell into a shocked ‘O’ I looked at Kalen who was still grinning like a cheshire cat and I couldn’t hold back the laugh. Even though I didn’t think it was possible, his grin widened.
“Goal One, complete. Make you laugh.”
I tilted my head. “Thanks Kalen. I actually needed that.” I replied. “What’s goal two?”
Kalen leaned in so close that I could feel his breath on my ear. I ignored the following tingles in my spine and the goosebumps that followed. “Thats a secret.” He whispered.
All of a sudden my throat felt thick, and my stomach full and achy. I wasn’t sure why. Maybe I was coming down with something, or maybe I was still confused about the previous day. Being around Kalen now felt kind of odd and I couldn’t really understand why. So we’d kissed, but it wasn’t like he was in to me. Not like that.
“You okay?” Kalen exclaimed as we started climbing the stairs to the school. “You seem distracted.”
“I’m fine.” I lied. “Let’s do this.”
“Yes.” he murmured, pushing open the doors. “Let’s.”
If I’d felt burned by the stares outside, then nothing prepared me for the corridors. From the moment we walked inside all eyes were on us. Suddenly it was like I was inside of the movie, time seemed to slow down, the voices and whispers around us, were too quiet to hear.
I looked around, the pictures were gone. That was something. As we approached my locker, I noticed the paint was gone too. I stopped and opened it, emptying my bag into the small tin can space.
“So far, so good.” I breathed out. “We’ve got music first, so should we head there now?”
I looked up at Kalen whose eyes were on me, he wasn’t smiling… he was just staring. I tilted my head, which seemed to capture his attention enough to distract him from whatever his thoughts were. His eyes met mine and he nodded. “Yeah music.” He murmured.
We walked through the corridors until we made it to the music block. By the time we got there I’d forgotten about the stares and the whispers. The door was unlocked so we walked inside. It was no surprise that we were the first in the classroom, the start of the school day was still ten or so minutes away. I walked over to the tiered seats and sat down.
“Do you still play the piano?” Kalen asked walking over to me.
I looked at the black grand in the corner of the room and shrugged. I hadn’t played for sometime. Since before Stef’s… Since before she left. I was never really any good, I’d taught myself on an old piano at Kalens when we’d been friends.
“Not really.” I mumbled.
“Do you remember the last song you played?” He asked sitting down beside me.
I smiled and looked down. It had been for an assignment. I’d played and sung Brave by Sara Bareilles for the teacher. She’d begged me to perform in the winter talent show… and I’d turned her down. It was a month or two later that everything happened and I just hadn’t since.
“I do actually.”
“Will you play it for me?”
I was surprised by the answer I silently gave myself. The fact that deep down I wanted to stand and walk across the room to the piano. I closed my eyes, despite it’s name, the song made me feel vulnerable, especially now.
“I don’t think I can.”
“Of course you can.” He replied. “You could’ve stayed at home, continued to avoid this place. But you didn’t. You came here, you walked through the doors and you’re here now. Willow, you’re a mother fucking boss.”
I shook my head and pushed myself up off the seat. I stared at the piano and swallowed a hard ball of nerves back. It was only Kalen and I in here and yet I felt like I was in a stadium filled with people. I moved across the floor and sat down on the piano seat. My fingers hovered over the keys and I wondered for a second if I even remembered how to play it. Then, as if by muscle memory I began to play. The words fell out of my mouth the way the song begged them to, and I lost myself within it. I’m not sure when Kalen came and sat beside me, harmonizing with me, but at some point he did.
When the song ended, my hands fell back from the keys and I turned my head to look at Kalen. He was looking back at me, with an expression I didn’t understand. We were both breathing heavier than normal but I put that down to singing the song, Kalen’s mouth opened and he let out a sigh as a smile washed over his face.
In that moment, I wanted to kiss him. I wanted to feel his lips on mine like I had the day before. I wanted to be brave. I smiled back, almost willing to take the plunge… then a voice caught me off guard, Mrs Cleaver. She was beside the piano talking to us before I really knew what was happening. Kalen was looking at her as she spoke and I was still looking at him. When she walked away he turned back to me. Could he tell I couldn’t move, that I was frozen in time looking at him. What the hell had happened to me.
“We should go back and sit down.” I finally managed to say.
“Yeah. Sure.” He replied, standing up.
I followed behind him, walking back to where I’d been sitting before. As soon as I sat down the bell sounded and the class began to fill in. I went through the motions the entire class, blindsided by the things I’d felt sitting beside Kalen on that seat, I didn’t want to like him like that.
1, because we’d only just become friends again and 2, because I wasn’t his type. Losing another friendship and the rejection were both enough on their own to send me away screaming. At the end of class, I heard Kalen speak as we both stood up and headed for the door.
“Huh?” I replied, drawing myself out of my head, I turned focus on him. He looked concerned.
“You’ve been quiet. You okay?” He asked.
“Oh yeah, great.” I replied. “See you tomorrow I guess?”
“Oh yeah.” Kalen mumbled. I was about to walk out the door and end for english when his hand caught my arm. “Actually Willow, did you maybe want to eat lunch with me today?”
I stopped and turned around, stepping away from the door so the rest of the class could filter out. I mulled over his offer for a moment, I hadn’t even brought lunch to eat. I bit my lip.
“I was gonna work on that end of term assignment in the library.” I whispered. It was a lie of course, I hadn’t been able to do anything on that stupid thing, I wanted to talk to G. Maybe he could help me stop thinking about Kalen.
“Oh yeah, of course.” Kalen replied. His eyes dropped and he nodded. “See you tomorrow.”
I watched as he walked passed me, into the corridor. He seemed down, and I didn’t like the way that it sat in my gut. I walked out, upping my speed until I was beside him.
“Okay.” I murmured. “Lunch.”
Kalen stopped in front of me, his eyes were wide and he smiled. “In the Cafeteria.”
I nodded. “I didn’t bring lunch, but uh… we can hang.”
“Awesome.” He beamed. “See you at lunchtime Willow.”
At lunchtime I hesitantly walked toward a place I hadn’t been in since freshman year. Even when Stefanie had been here, we’d spent lunchtime under the bleachers. It was easier being there, then being where everyone was. There was no one to mock us, or humiliate us. We were invisible… together.
I stood in the archway and looked around, the tables all had students at them, some with packed lunches, some with bought. I remembered the apple in my bag, and the $20 in my pocket. I was kind of hungry…
“Willow.” Kalen’s voice roused me from my idle thoughts I looked up at him and my eyes widened. He was carrying two lunch trays. “Come.”
I followed him as we walked through the cafeteria, finally stopping at a table near the windows. He placed both trays down then patted the seat beside him.
“I got you the same as me.” He murmured. “I hope it’s okay.”
I looked down at the tray, still standing up. It was a standard school lunch, mac and cheese, a cupcake a piece of fruit and a drink. It wasn’t fine dining, but for some reason it made me feel weird inside. I sat down, nervously beside Kalen and picked up a fork.
“You bought me lunch.” I whispered.
“You need to eat Willow.” He replied. “You said you didn’t bring lunch.”
I shoved my hand in my pocket and fished around for the $20, still dumbfounded. I went to give it to him, but he placed his hand over mine. “My treat. Please.” he lifted his own fork out of the cluggy mac and cheese. “I mean, if you can call this a treat.”
I pulled my hand away from his and shoved the money back in my pocket. “Thank you.” I said finally. Admitting defeat.
“No problem.” He smiled. “Uh… enjoy, I guess.” He chuckled.
For ten or so minutes it was really good. Sure we could both hear the whispers and feel the stares, but for the first time in my life.. It didn’t seem to matter. We talked about the music assignment, and arranged to meet on the weekend to finish it off.
And then she came over.
She sat on the other side of Kalen, wrapping herself around him like some kind of boa constrictor. He tensed immediately and looked sideways at me.
“Tiffany.” He said, his voice tight.
“Kay….” She said in a sing song voice. “I missed you.” she leaned in and kissed him on the cheek.
“Wish I could say the same.” Kalen managed to exclaim.
Tiffany scowled and unravelled herself from Kalen. “Oh hey Willow. I saw those pictures… how disgusting!” she paused… her tone harsh and cold. I knew the desired effect was to make me feel gross about myself, and to make me bite. But I wasn’t going to. “I mean, how disgusting that someone would humiliate you like that.”
I shrugged and looked at her, unwilling to give her the satisfaction she so deeply wanted.
“Some people are just pathetic I guess.” I replied.
I watched as Tiffany’s face grew redder, it looked as though she were about to explode. I hadn’t reacted the way she wanted. She stared at me for a moment with pure anger in her eyes. Then let out a deep breath and turned her focus to Kalen.
“There’s a party at mine on Saturday. All day and night pool party.”
“That’s nice.” Kalen replied. “Little cold for swimming though isn’t it.”
“It’s heated silly, and besides, we’ve got the jacuzzi for at night. You should come. I might have a surprise for you…” She oozed sex appeal, but for whatever reason, Kalen just didn’t care. He shrugged her arm off him and shook his head.
“No thanks.” He replied. “I have a date on Saturday.”
Date? With who. I looked at Kalen who was looking at me with pleading eyes. I felt my own eyes widen until they felt like they were the size of saucers. Tiffany caught on before I could muster the courage to play along. She stood up and folded her arms across her chest.
“You’re dating her?!” she screamed.
Instantly the sound in the cafeteria ceased and all eyes were on us. I was frozen on the spot, staring up at Tiffany who looked mortified and angry… If I’d been a bystander her reaction would have been amusing, but I was in the thick of it… I was the reason for it and everyone knew it. I turned to look at Kalen who looked at me apologetically. He went to speak but I shook my head. This is why we couldn’t be more… no matter if I felt something other than friendship… in fact this was why friendship should have been off the table too.
I was the punchline and he was not.
“No.” I said finally, standing up. “We’re not dating.”
I beelined for the exit, and tried to ignore the fact that everyone was still silent, that the only sound I could hear was the sound of my knock off chucks squeaking as I walked. The moment I was out of the cafeteria, the voices started again. I didn’t stick around to listen to the gossip, not when I was the gossip.
I left school early, I walked home before anyone could whisper behind my back about the scene in the cafeteria. The house was locked up when I got home so I looked through my bag until I found my key and unlocked the door.
“Mom?” My voice fell, with no reply.
I walked through the house and checked all the rooms. She still wasn’t back. Unwilling to think the worst, I ignored the part of brain that screamed at me about my father and his increasing aggression. Hurting her to the point of no return was too much, even for him. I went to to my room and sat down at my desk.
After several failed attempts to do homework I looked down at the time. G would be home from school. I signed into chat and almost immediately a chat box popped up.
G - Hey.
S - Hey yourself.
G - Everything okay?
S - I’ve had… better days.
G - Want to talk about it?
S - Not really…
G - No problem. We’re all good right?
S - Yeah, of course. We’re fine. I’m just worried about my Mom. She hasn’t been home in a few days. I’m sure its nothing, its just not like her.
G - Maybe she went to visit family?
S - We don’t really see family. I mean she has parents out there somewhere…. But they didn’t like my Dad much and disowned her when she eloped.
Maybe they’d been on to something.
G - Do you think she’s in danger?
S - No. Maybe she just needed a break.
Dad had been genuinely asking me if I knew where she was. He wouldn’t have asked in such an accusatory tone, had he known, had he hurt her and left her somewhere. Maybe she had left him, why she had left me… I still failed to understand.
G - How about if no word tomorrow, we head down to the police station and make a missing persons report.
S - G…. that would involve meeting you.
G - I know.
S - I don’t know if I’m ready.
G - Okay, we don’t have too.
I looked at the screen and read over G’s words until my eyes began to water. I didn’t want to use him as a person to get my mind off of Kalen, even though I knew that to anyone else who could see the inner workings of my mind, that would be exactly what it would look like. I just needed to know if everything going on in my head and heart was rational.
S - I want to.
G - Really?
S - Yeah. Tomorrow. Before school. If my Mom isn’t back we’ll go to the station. I’ll wait out front. When the bell goes. I’ll be the one still standing there.
G - You’re sure.
S - Having second thoughts G?
G - No. I just know that you need this, I want to make sure you’re ready to put a face to words.
S - Ditto G.
G - Oh, don’t worry about me S. Hey I’ll uh, give your my number. Just in case you don’t see me outside.
S - Okay.
G - 555 0340 28822
S - It’s in my phone.
G - Until tomorrow S.
S - Until tomorrow.
I signed out of the chat and then opened up my diary. Today I didn’t want to tell Stefanie everything that was going on. I didn’t want to face my own demons. I stared at the entry for the longest time, unable to write a single word.
I’ve been trying to write this entry for almost an hour. I don’t know what to say or where to begin. I’m starting to think that everything is a mess for a reason, but the reason escapes me.
Shit… Dad’s home. He’s late tonight. I’ve been here for three hours and I’ve only written a sentence. I’ll write again tomorrow.
Talk soon, Willow.