2: The Girl
Chapter 2: The Girl
Mornings are supposed to rise brilliantly and fantastically, like in fairy tales, but the light shied away, defeated, as my blinds proved too morose a barrier for them to traverse. Sighing, I rustled from sleep, my voluminous brown hair floating every which way, charged with static. Mother must have pitied me, robing me with a scarlet blanket and bidding farewell to the pocket-sized life covering my face. In a huff, I draped the blanket across the floor. And in silence, I perused my new room. Everything is as it was yesterday and even the day before. Every tchotchke and souvenir remained in cardboard boxes, slumbering content in the disillusion that they were still in my old home. My old life. But in the chiaroscuro, my brain almost tricked me into believing this clandestine cabin to be gorgeous.
Sequestered by the Enchanted Forest (or so I called it), the home was handsomely crafted in lustrous pine wood and adorned with windows crosshatched in black and jagged at the tops with leaded glass. The interior was practically luxury, with an unyielding staircase towering over a spacious living room fitted with its own rounded couch and plaid tapestry (Which we didn’t provide). The kitchen left a little to be desired, and the pipes couldn’t understand the concept of hot water, but the thing looked the part, at least.
Under the cover of the solemn abandonment, the rooms felt as lonely as I did. The incapable faucet in the sink dripped feebly, and a barricade of boxes shielded the basement door. For a second, I blinked, and the prospect of this being the ideal artist’s retreat escaped my pursed smile. Unfortunately for me, though, I remembered I had to go to school. Even worse—that I had to leave within the hour. And even even worse: that I had to walk there.
So I dragged myself out of bed apathetically and blew a tuft of hair out of my eyes. All my thoughts ceased when I devoted myself to clothing myself ritualistically and stuffing my backpack full of philosophical corpses. As the morning dilated, I regretting having no time to arrange my bookshelf nor to relieve my treasured books of their sentence to the musty tomato box. Then I did as all good main characters should do and stuffed a piece of buttered and jammed toast in my mouth. But just as I was about to say a requiem for the house, a naïve shred of loose-leaf whispered to me before I left the kitchen. Mom left me a note. The nerve. I skimmed over the sloppy cursive disinterestedly, but the final sentence thrust a knife into the back of my neck unexpectedly.
Thanks for everything.
The note haunted me in the stillness of the derelict house. My stomach sunk. The message made me feel like a guilty kid suddenly getting complimented with a somber vibe of “I’m leaving and never coming back, so thanks for all you gave me since you were born.” Of course my parents would be coming back home—like parents tend to do after work—but the note left me with a bitter taste in my mouth which permeated through the rest of my day.
Especially because I didn’t do anything.
With a sigh that carried concealed melancholy, I took the note in my hands and crumpled it, shoving it in my coat pocket alongside the mysterious envelope. I thought maybe the two would keep each other company as I begrudgingly and painfully limped to another day of school. The second of what would be many long, difficult, and wildly eccentric days.
The first day, of which, I had to treck to the educational system with my own, two feet. My thoughts drifted immediately to the infantile fable of the mouse who had to travel so much that, in the end, he desired a new pair of feet he had to slip on to finish the journey. I mourned the fact that I couldn’t replace my feet with brand new ones. Sure, the promenade began bucolically enough with the Enchanted Forest’s backdrop  in every scene, but then the city’s toxic breath hacked on me. Then the cars’ monster truck tires threatened my existence. Then the streetlights sprung up from the concrete like weeds. Then the droves of people, thick like a cloud of gnats, swept me up and suffocated me. Clenched in the epicenter of the mobile, sweaty mass, I seized my breath and navigated by the hazy sky. I thought for sure I would pass out before the nightmare would end, but somehow the fates granted me a second chance and dumped me out at a street corner to catch my breath. The only thing worse than being short in a corridor of bodies is being assimilated into the pile like a brainwashed android. I felt like just another ant scuffling to work, stripped of its reasoning to question why it has to follow the invisible lines to its inevitable destination. But there I was in front of the school, barely breathing and already primed to hop a cab across the border.
So began another day at that big, dumb school. As I reached my locker, I caught a glimpse of that so-called “Friendship Club Girl” floating among the students in the coagulated hall. Her long, blonde hair swished over her face as she whipped her head furiously back and forth as though searching for a lost dog. I rolled my eyes, fabricating her inner monologue. I betted she was waiting for me to drop more books so she could surreptitiously plant more notes inside of them. But I was onto her little scheme. Unluckily for her, I vowed to conceal all my tomes in my backpack throughout my voyage.
I began the day by slipping the pamphlet of a novella in the front pocket of my carry-on purse like my script, rehearsing its chapter for discussion (to which I would only contribute in the furthest reaches of my internal fascination). Then I prefaced for our chance encounter. A sigh couldn’t help but to escape me. My locker sequestered itself, and my footsteps rocked the halls, though students would have had to evaporate for that to happen. Friendship Club Girl, as I’ve come to dub her, crossed eyes with me—our contrasting colors parrying each other’s sabres. But I left the fray unscathed. Thank goodness she didn’t notice me. Or, I guess, bother to stop me and pester me about the note.
At last, I could breathe a sigh of relief and fall back into the comfort of words. The books were like thousand thread count sheets, and I was ready to dream. In fact, I even denounced the sombrous corridors in the back row and plopped myself jubilantly right in the seat beside the luminous window. My casual smile reflected the sun. My hands formed a dome on the desk, and my eyes waited attentively. But little did I know.
The desk beside me uttered an ominous creak—and there sat, unaware of her disturbing nature, that Friendship Club Girl with the exact same look on her placid face.
“This is not how things are supposed to happen in reality!” The words fumed in my thoughts. But it was beyond me to lecture her; for all I had known, it might have been a casual mistake, and I was feeling generous enough to pardon her.
Once, after all, is a mistake. But twice or more is considered war in my book. And guess who crossed that line almost immediately. She was like a virus if you could see its shadow trailing you around like an assassin. Every class: she was there. Right beside me, unaware of the Earth’s revolutions, twirling her heart-studded pencil or murmuring to her textbook while doodling. It was sickening. My stomach had learned what it meant to have an existential crisis, but my brain remained numb. By the time history arrived, I was ready to collapse into a soft pile of nausea. The little weakness that slipped from the cracks elicited “Friendship Club Girl” to prey on me like a tiger.
“Hey!” she chirped. “Did you get my flyer?”
I had rehearsed this scenario, so I drew my mental pamphlet for combat and straightened my back so crudely it cracked. “What flyer?” I spat monotonously.
“The Friendship Club flyer!” she announced proudly.
“Oh, that was yours?” My remarks clinked off her enthusiastic teen girl shield like hollow coins.
With puppy dog eyes, she tilted her head inquisitively and shot a friendly smile. “Yes… Are you considering joining?”
“I think you should!”
“Who’s all in it?”
“Well, no one yet. I just started the club…” She lowered her eyes shyly.
“Did you give out any more flyers?” I raised an eyebrow dubiously and crossed my arms.
“Nope!” Noticing her sudden answer, she hid her intentions by flicking her eyes to the unsuspecting row of lockers. “Not yet.” With a sheepish giggle, she rocked a toe on the floor.
I could tell what she was up to, and the very idea sickened my stomach. “You started this ‘club’ to make friends, right?”
“So you’re just trying to say that you want me to be your friend, right?”
At this statement, she made a cute, puzzled look; then she quickly hopped backward and hopped forward. With an excited grin she yelled, “Yes!”
I wasn’t deterred by her anime-esque quirks, nor was I surprised by her answer, and I breathed a sigh.
“Hold on!” She suddenly dashed to her locker, leaving me in her glittery dust.
Drawing on the memory of the morning’s note, I had the same, strange feeling that she would never return. This was actually comforting. To my dismay, she rematerialized on the tile in front of me as though she had never escaped me.
“Wait!” I halted her speedy exit, “What’s this?”
“A letter. Duh.” She side-stepped to the wall for some reason.
“Yeah, but what does this mean?”
“What does it mean? Oh… uh… It means that…” she tripped over her words, falling into a good excuse along the way, “You’re a member of the club now!”
I sighed. “OK, then,” I gave the envelope a proper burial in my back pocket. “You don’t do this to everybody, do you?” I gave her the once-over to cement her image in my memory just in case she was a wanted criminal or a ditsy cosplayer or something.
“No, just people like you who are unsure of themselves and hate change.”
It felt like an anvil dropped on my head. Her specific, clairvoyant words combined with her nonchalant expression made me have an out-of-body. “What? How did you know?!”
“Oh, it’s typical. You came here to school in the end of September, after all. And in junior year, of all years! And you always have that look on your face that says if anyone talks to you, you’ll bite them or something!” She proceeded to emphasize the action of biting by mimicking jaws with her hands and crunching them around her unintimidating face.
“I’m that predictable, huh?” While the majority of me surrendered to the sentiment, 20% of me was ready to resign to the afterlife at the notion of being so easily read.
“Uh-huh.” She grinned. “See you in history!”
I sincerely cherished her parting words, hoping they would prove felicitous to grace me with a swift end. But nope. The bell just rang on cue, and I swallowed my tears.
The school day jump-cut to art, which is the only class that has ever mattered to me. It found me at my most desperate, still breathless from gym class and limping from the unintelligible mush served to us at lunch. I mentally noted I’d have to bring my own lunch every day to pacify the treacherous promenade to school along with saving my stomach. Maybe I could sacrifice it to the wild dogs or rampant ruffians I’d come across, too. At the cost of my sanity, of course.
Resting among the noxious fumes of acrylics, I felt at home as the framed walls and papered desks reached out to me, pleading to save the tortured artists trapped inside. The best part about art class was that it offered a basic curriculum with the majority of the time devoted to free expression. I could paint all I wanted—whatever I wanted. It was Heaven incarnate. Still consumed by that morning’s note, the dread welled up inside me, and I knew I had to unleash it in a fury of paint.
I was possessed to pick three acrylics (red, black, and white) that would sacrifice themselves as my mediums. The first strokes went well, but then I lost all sanity and sense of purpose and apathetically resorted to smothering the colors together in an abstract sort of way. Once that was finished, I pinpointed my focus to burning an image in the foreground. But what the heck would symbolize a distraught child internally sobbing over a letter that somehow reminds them of their own inadequacy? Oh, duh. A bright slab of ivory paper in an empty room. The background transformed into a special coffin, and the red became the silhouette of the despotic child. And that was that. I admit creativity was never my strong suit, but it’s the thought that counts in art. “Articulating Reinventing (and always) Thinking” was the dumb acronym they taught us in that art camp. I mean, that spells “Arat,” technically, but you can’t tell that to teenage camp counselors. What matters most to me is that I take heed on my passions and thoughts rather than consecrate them in some oubliette as I scatter through life like a glitch that’s internally bleeding.
The art instructor with whom we were blessed was a restrained and nonjudgmental individual by the name of Mr. Dahl. His perfectly-coiffed copper hair would rise with static each time he passed by me, as though he could sense the poltergeist I summoned with my angst. While he freely gifted compliments and critique to the others as he made his rounds, he’d hesitate in intimidation around me, content to return with my feedback once time had assisted in clearing his thoughts.
That day, he had only one genuine parting gift, which was a gentle tap on the shoulder and an amicable whisper of the common but thoughtful enigmatic phrase: “Are you OK?”
How does one respond to this? Especially coming from a kin but nevertheless complete stranger in a deteriorating high school in the middle of a city whose population is on par with the dust particles in my old house.
I just nodded, devoting myself to the painting which says nothing I wouldn’t want it to.
To my surprise, he continued. “Don’t be offended, Cera,” he added. “You have the artist’s vision, and you’re good at expressing your feelings.”
“So?” I pouted.
“There’s nothing wrong with expressing questionable things as long as you’ve distanced it from yourself. And you’re OK.”
I had no idea what the heck he was saying, but it didn’t matter because that’s when he returned to his desk and my sight was arrested by the stupidest thing I had ever seen.
“Friendship Club Girl” planted herself on the opposite side of the room. She was practicing recreating various fruits. I could tell because she had packed a survival kit of vicarious fruits for the occasion. Her process was a sight to behold with rolled eyes. With one hand, she held a fruit like Hamlet held the skull of his beloved Horatio; with her right hand, she attempted to trace the angles of the edible shape (In my case, I happened to spy on her while she was replicating an apple). Her “artist’s muse” was enlightened by the stupidest scrunched-up face as she examined the apple like a microscope or one who had never encountered such an alien crimson substance in their lives. This process, of course, lasted for a minute eternity. When she was content with her work, she would whisper an indistinct shout and grab another fruit from the stash, repeating the ludicrous process. Now that’s what I call a “starving artist.” I was surprised Mr. Dahl didn’t offer Mariah a sandwich as a sympathetic pacifier. But he was only concerned about me.
When the final bell rang, I sprinted to my locker to escape the nightmare of our little game of hide and seek. I slapped my hand against the frigid metal, and the entire hall was void of any distractions. At last. I was safe from “Friendship Club Girl.”
To preserve the longevity of my back, I purposefully left most of my workbooks and dead weights at home, so I only my math and science books had to follow me home today. I figure we only read certain excerpts from the million-page palimpsest every literature class, so I photocopy them and bring the looseleaves with me. Heck, maybe it’s illegal, but bequeathing a 50-pound burden on each student is even more deplorable, I say.
“Oh, God,” I whimpered, biting my lower lip. While I was mumbling to myself about my intricate anxieties, guess who crawled into my peripheral vision. Yep. It was her.
Just standing there unassumingly with a painted smile like a teddy bear, she prefaced her surprise encounter with a tiny wave before folding her hands behind her back. “So, I didn’t expect you to have the paper filled out from the letter I gave you, but I was just wondering if maybe you did?”
The muffled cries of the banished kin squawked in my pocket. “I completely forgot about it.”
“Oh, that’s OK!” She smacked my shoulder, and I flinched. “Just wanted to make sure. If you’re coming to the Friendship Club meeting after school Friday, you’ll need to bring the letter with you, OK?”
“And who says I am?”
For a second, I thought she was going to cry, but maybe that was just a hallucination. “Well…” She rocked on her heels. “Just once. If you hate it, you don’t ever have to come back again.”
The magic words. “I’ll be there.”
That, unfortunately or not, immediately transformed her face into the sun. “Great! See you then!” In contrast to her speedy exit yesterday, she just hopped away with the coattails on her backpack jangling around like kindergartners skipping in rows.
“Oy vey,” I breathed to myself. I would have to devote serious time to meditation before facing her Friday.
My mom’s swan song had been on my mind all day, but the little leech in my pocket had completely slipped my mind. Putting priority over mundane pleasantries was hardly my style, but I dumped my backpack and left it for dead to save myself from Mariah’s future pestering. Unlike the invitation, this letter was formally-presented without any frilly frivolities. Basically, it was plain as could be. More boring than an academic paper. A paragraph introduced a long array of underscores for some kind of essay, and I sighed and shrugged all at once.
Write a little about yourself. Your name, where you moved from, how you see yourself, etc. and finally, please, say why you’re here for Friendship Club today. Maybe you’re agonized over a lost love or maybe you’re tired of your parents. Depressed? Just lonely? Any reason is fine! Our meeting is this Friday after school in room 107, located in the mysterious first floor of this school (Now abandoned!) See you there!
It’s a crime scene, and I’m walking right into it—is what I thought. What idiot would fall for something like this? State info about yourself and what’s bothering you? Why? And why the heck the creepy, abandoned part of the school? Is she some kind of vampire or something? Or is this another one of her attempts at being “quirky”? I snuffed away her gallic attempts at fantasy roleplay and ignored the entire situation in which I had found myself.
Grumbling, I scribbled some moderately-legible cuneiforms on the blanks and folded the death wish lengthwise back into the envelope. I didn’t deign to seal it nor my fate. The end of today had crawled to my back surreptitiously without mercy, but I devoted my consciousness to delaying Friday’s arrival for the rest of eternity. Or at least until it decides to come knocking.