"You burn my energy
I don't think I'll make you see
That I don't care
About you and your best friend"
I spriffed my jacket again, strolling through the crowded hallways towards my next dull, uninteresting, and altogether too easy class. The business meeting with that shortsighted oaf Spiro had left me in a sour mood. Altogether a waste of time and effort. I was so frustrated upon my return home that I simply hid my Cube away in a cluttered drawer and resolved not to look at it again. Even for me, I was uncharacteristically foul-tempered. After running some trivial calculations in my head, I concluded that there wasn't a thing I could encounter today that could brighten my mood.
At which point Fate attempted to prove me wrong. Which would have been hilarious, if I was in the mood to appreciate Cro-Magnon humor. I wasn't.
I was five steps from the door to Hartfoot's class when I was yanked into a dark, enclosed space. It took me a second to adjust to the dim light, but then a lightbulb was switched on so I had to adjust yet again. The first thing I saw after that nanosecond of blindness was a faceful of freckles and blue eyes.
"What are you doing?" demanded Diane. She was uncomfortably close to me-how could she not be? We were in a broom closet. I made my best attempt to throw my arms up in ac- cusatory exasperation without knocking my elbow on a shelf.
"What are you doing?" I growled in reply. "Why aren't you in class? You're going to make me late!"
"Like you don't know how to hack your own records," drawled Diane, rolling her eyes at me. "or care for that matter. Besides, you're not supposed to be at school anyway. You're lucky I paid off Ike to keep his mouth shut about seeing you at school. Ten pounds just to keep mum!"
"Not supposed to be at school?" I echoed flatly, not believing my ears. What the devil had Diane dragged me into this time?
"Yeah," she confirmed, as if I should know already. "Check your medical records. You caught pneumonia while you're gone. You should be bedridden for at least a few more days, knowing that you have the constitution of a dandelion."
"That's a rather strapping dandelion," I muttered. I'm not that wimpy, thank you. "And for pete's sake, I was going to Chicago. In the summer. Pneumonia in sunny Chicago?"
"Ask Sakura," she shrugged. "She told me it was believable. She said that about the dandelion thing, too. She says she's seen sparrows with stronger cardiovascular systems than you."
"We are going to have a talk about that later," I snapped, poking her in the chest as if she were the one that had insulted me. "Just because my strengths are not of the physical category does not give her the right to-"
"Lights out!" she hissed suddenly, pulling on the lightbulb cord and surrounding us in darkness. My instinct told me to stay perfectly still and not make a sound. For once in my life, I listened to it. I could just barely make out the form of Diane's explosive hair in front of me and hear her whisper-silent breathing. My own sounded abrasive in my own ear, and my heartbeat was suddenly the loudest thing short of a warhead. Footsteps clopped by outside in the hall, their silhouettes temporarily darkening the closet even further as they passed by. The moment seemed to go on forever, the very air moist with apprehension.
Finally, the footsteps echoed off into the distance. The light switched on, revealing the grin split across Diane's face. Was it just me, or was she a little closer than she had been when the lights went off?
"You've never played hooky a day in your life, have you?" she asked breathlessly. I blinked at her.
"I'll take that as a no," she assumed, her smile fading minimally. "Well, first time for everything, eh?"
"Life is all a big joke to you, isn't it?" I snarled, angry for a reason I couldn't place at the moment. "All about your little pointless games. Don't you have a purpose besides being a delinquent?"
"If I do, I sure haven't found it, yet," she said proudly, grinning even wider. "C'mon, it'll be fun!"
How had I ever become friends with her?
She was my complete opposite in every aspect. While I calculated, she freelanced. Where I sighed, she laughed. When I saw black and white, she saw technicolor. No matter how certain I was of anything and everything, Diane inexplicably managed to prove me wrong as soon as I had an answer that made sense. It was infuriating, to the point where at times I wished I'd never dragged myself into this friendship nonsense.
But then there were other moments. Moments like this.
Diane miraculously had a cab parked at the school gate, probably how she had gotten to school in the first place. Who knows what excuse she had conjured for herself to be absent for a couple days? If she had gone to the trouble of making an excuse, that is. She took a back seat with me and told the driver to make for Duchess Adéla Solvekych's summer home, before sliding the privacy window shut. I'd never heard the name before, but it must have been Diane's mother. I recalled that first dual counseling session with Dr. Po, when she'd told me her life story. I wondered about her relationship with her mother-after all, Diane had literally called her own mother the 'richest broad this side of the Atlantic.' But what had her mother ever done to her?
"Man, what I wouldn't give to be in your shoes last weekend, you lucky skunk," sighed Diane with a nostalgic grin on her face, putting her feet up on the center console. "I miss America. Me and Dad mostly stuck around the southwest, but we did go on tour in the northeast one time. From Chicago up through New York and even Boston. Plenty of paparazzi, flashing lights, and headlines about 'Daddy's Little Girl.'"
"Your father must have been quite the star," I observed casually, still trying to figure out what had made me want to pursue this relationship. "Knowing you, you probably thrived from all the attention."
"You would think that, wouldn't you?" she mused, staring out at the sunny pastures of Ireland rolling by with an odd glaze in her eye. "But no. At first, the lights scared me. I was only a little girl when I had my first taste of fame, about eight or so."
Eight years old. Not so bad. I was memorizing the dictionary by then, in between testing my lunar terraformer prototype and creating my own star chart. Diane pulled her feet off the center console, leaning forward onto her knees with her chin in her hand.
"It was all so bright, so loud," she recalled. "They would ask me weird questions that I knew nothing about, about politics and the state of the world and nonsense like that. But then Dad told me something that helped me cope. He said, 'Just smile for the camera, sweetie. As long as you give them what they want, they'll leave you alone. And they want your big, beautiful smile, because they've forgotten how to smile themselves.'"
I realized by the quaver of her voice that she was beginning to cry. She wiped her eyes on her bare arm, having forsaken the stiff Bartleby's modified uniform for a Foo Fighters t-shirt (what on earth are Foo Fighters?)and torn jeans. With a pang of empathy unusual for a boy of my caliber, I recalled my father's time in the hands of the Russian mafiya. Until very recently, I hadn't seen my father for two years. I'd coped with it well enough, but I couldn't say for Diane. She was much more emotionally prone than I was.
"Sorry," she apologized, voice still unstable. "I'm a total wuss. I just...I miss him. He was my parent. I didn't have a mom, and I still don't, for that matter. That insensitive witch is more a slave to the public than my dad. At least he had a sense of self-worth and agency. My mom would disown me if it would get her enough attention. Sometimes I wish she would."
"What did she do to you?" I asked quietly, leaning closer to her. She glared at me with a sudden vehemence that seemed more fitting for a caged predator.
"Nothing," she seethed. "She was never there. She never loved me, she never even loved Dad. And she never will. Yeah, sure, now she wants me, because she feels sorry for the poor little urchin whose daddy is 'unable to care for his child.' Yeah, right! So she boots him out of the picture into some third-rate rehab, separating us when we're the only beings in the world that make each other happy, and puts a diamond collar on me in an attempt to turn me into her perfect little blueblood angel! Does she even have maternal instinct? Maternal instinct does not wear diamond-studded collars! She-she's such a-rrgh!"
Diane was scaring me. She really was. But instead of exploding, she put her face in her hands and sobbed.