LXVII. Charity Work
The holidays came and went. Soon, I found myself standing in front of Pandora Academy again. This time, without Josh. I cannot believe I’ve been here for nearly half a year.
I roll my suitcase towards the large building. Austin was the first person I recognized. He smiles, “Hey, Hailey. How’s the holiday?”
“Good. And you?”
We exchange a few more sentences before more students arrive and talk to him. Silently, I faded away. I press a button inside the elevator and twirl the cell phone inside my pocket.
Josh hadn’t called me as frequently as he did during a school break. Maybe, it’s because we had been spending half a year together, so he needs some time alone. That’s the excuse I had told myself over the break. Even when we talked over the phone, it was brief; barely any sentences were exchanged.
I saw it on TV before. This is how friendship fades, and soon when we start college, we’ll go our separate ways.
Josh would go to an ivy league school.
I would enter a regular university.
He would be at the top of his class.
While I struggle to pass mine.
He knows what he wants to do in the future.
And I would still search for my life goal.
Maybe it was for the best that I didn’t confess. With the separated time between us, I realized that Josh and I didn’t have many things in common. If it weren’t for our parents, we would be two people living in entirely different worlds.
Somehow, even if we get together, reality would catch up.
There it is again.
The unsettling sensation inside my stomach. I want to throw up.
I lost eight pounds over the break.
People gain weight.
I lost them.
The more I lose, the better I feel.
I’m pathetic. I know.
“Had a good holiday, bionda?” I didn’t expect Ricardo to be the second person I know to greet me. I thought somehow I would see him in a few days. But, there he stands, in a dark trench coat with a blue suitcase.
I smile faintly, “Yeah.”
He did something I didn’t expect. Ricardo places his warm hand on my cheek. “You lost weight.” I didn’t think anyone would notice.
“Did I?” I tried to brush it off.
“Don’t do that,” he said. “Don’t make it sound like it doesn’t matter.” I can hear it—the pain behind his voice.
“Your holiday. Did it not go well?”
Ricardo lowers his palm and exhales sharply. “Not as well as I wanted it to be.”
I bit my inner cheeks, “You’re not alone then.” From the looks on his face. I can see that Ricardo probably had a worse break than me. I’m pondering over my emotions for a guy. For him, something much more strenuous seemingly occurred. “Do you want to talk about it?” Even with the insults, Ricardo had been there for me. Well, not really. But he does talk to me and does not make fun of me when I’m really hurt.
There was a brief silence between us, and I didn’t believe Ricardo would tell me anything. I was wrong. “Mamma is in the hospital.”
The single sentence sucks up what’s left of my livelihood. I didn’t say anything; instead, I embraced him. God knows I need someone to hug too.
To my surprise, Ricardo embraced me back. He’s warm.
When I heard an elevator ding behind me, I didn’t pay much attention to it. I should’ve.
A low whistle finally caught my attention, and I turned to see Ahmend, Crystal, and...Josh.
I should feel bad.
But I didn’t.
And it didn’t seem like Josh felt anything particular either with that emotionless look on his face.
All six of us stood in the hallway; our eyes traced around each other—Ahmend on everyone. Josh was on me. My eyes were on Josh. Ricardo was staring at Crystal. Crystal was staring at him.
I expected Crystal to tease us or something like that, but she didn’t. She was completely quiet.
Ricardo was the first to enter the room down the hall without a single word. When the dorm room door closes, Crystal reverts her attention towards me. The bomb of questions was released.
I’m grateful Ahmend and Crystal were here because I wouldn’t know what to say if it was only Josh and me.
Soon, it was time to face him. When we entered the room, Ricardo had already left. He always manages to slip by without anyone noticing.
“You decorated the room pretty nice,” Josh said. His voice is a bit deeper than I remember.
The holidays’ decoration was still up. The school was giving away free holiday decorations to the students. To climb myself out of the hole of sorrow, I focused on something else.
“Thanks,” I respond.
“Did you do it by yourself?” I could pick up a sour tone in his voice, but I didn’t understand why he sounded mad.
I place the new clothes I got from Christmas inside the drawer. “No. Ricardo helped me with high places.” I had to cry more snot on his shirt for him to finally help me.
“You could’ve asked me.”
I threw down the pants and turned around. He was close, much too close. Did he get taller? “Could I?” I spat out. I didn’t know I had it in me.
Josh was stunned at my response.
“I’m sorry I didn’t ask you to help me with the holiday decorations. I thought it was kind of foolish to ask someone who went to another state.” Without telling me. I know it. I’m allowing my emotions to get the best of me.
“I had a family emergency.”
“Well, thanks for telling me!” I chew on the inside of my cheek. Josh reached for me, but I took a step back. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I need some air.” I didn’t want it to be like this. We haven’t officially seen each other in weeks, and the first thing I did was snap at him.
Nowadays, my temperament has seemingly shortened. Dad says I’m becoming more like mom.
I headed towards the door and closed it. It felt frustrating. How far Josh seems to be each passing day. I tried to push back these negative thoughts and emotions and sort them out before I met him, but I couldn’t.
Then, the image of Juliette would arrive. How he held her. How they spent the holidays together. How he would repeatedly avoid talking about her.
The last time we video called, Josh ended it much earlier than usual because Juliette knocked on his bedroom door.
I hate it.
This ugly jealous part of me.
Maybe it’s not only my appearance that’s ugly. It’s my rotten personality too.
I tried to tell myself that even if Josh had someone else, it’s fine. We’re still friends. I will always be there for him. He will always be here for me.
But it hurts.
And I know it’s all in my head. No one is playing this heartbreaking game with me. Just me. This is all on me.
I’m the problem.
My self-esteem is the issue.
But, even with the problem facing me, I couldn’t solve it.
It feels like I’m sitting at a desk with an exam in front of me. I’m being tested on a subject I never studied for. The language is all foreign, and the numbers confused me.
My head hurts.
I place a hand on my stomach and dash for the nearest bathroom. Breakfast swirled down the toilet.
I tried to eat more over the holidays. I really did. But, the more I ate. The more I hated myself. I wrap my arms around my legs. Even with all the support and encouragement around me, I understand that nothing will change unless I do it.
But I couldn’t.
Maybe it wasn’t the bullies’ fault.
It was all mine.
I spent most of my day hovering inside the bathroom stall. I feel safe in here.
The bathroom door clicks open, “Did you hear?” I heard some feet shuffling in. “That girl that roomed with Joshua used to be fat.”
Everyone burst out laughing. “Are you serious?”
“It’s all over the campus gossip page. Check it out.”
I immediately went on the student gossip page, and there it was—a picture of my past self. The acne was all over my large face, and the large t-shirt couldn’t hide the lumps of fats underneath.
“I bet she had liposuction and some damn great surgeon.”
“I wonder if Joshua knows.”
“Maybe Joshua likes fat girls.”
“Fat? If she were only fat, this wouldn’t be an issue. She looks like a goddamn pig! Look at her face!”
“I heard they’re childhood friends, so he’s probably with her because his parents forced him to. You heard about Mrs.Greyson. She loves doing charity work.”
“I bet one of the Greyson’s charities was for her.”
The gossip continued, and sentence by sentence struck inside my mind. Not soon enough, they left the bathroom. I held firmly onto the phone and marched towards the other dorm. I can feel it, the whispers around me. I pound against her door.
Jasmine opens it.
Without a single word, I slapped her.
Jasmine ran her tongue across her cheek. “Well, Happy New Year to you too.” Before I could respond, she slapped me. My hair splatter across my wet cheek. I didn’t cry. It was raining outside, and I’m grateful it did.
I never thought I would get into a fight and particularly not at the beginning of the year.
Mr.Davenson sips his cup of coffee. He sets it down on the coaster and cups his hands together. “Did you two have a good New Year.” It wasn’t a question, more on the line of a sarcastic statement. “Because I was doing great. I had a good time. Good meal. Weather not too bad. And then I came here.”
“Only to hear about a fight. On my first day back.”
“She started it,” Jasmine said.
“I don’t care who started it,” Mr.Davenson said. He doesn’t seem as calm as usual. The holiday must have been tough for him too. “Ten-page essay. Both of you. And I want to feel the sincerity of your apologies. Out.”
Jasmine and I stood, making our way towards the exit. The elevator ride was torturing.
“Why the fuck did you slap me?” Jasmine asks.
I scoff, “I’m certain you know why.”
Jasmine punches the emergency button, and the elevator comes to a halt. My body stumbles slightly at the action. She glares at me. “No bitch, I’m asking because I don’t know.” She took a step towards me. “This newfound attitude of yours is getting on my nerve.”
I grab my phone and scroll through the tabs. Then, I showed it to her. “Are there any other questions?” My words may be polite, but my tone was lethal.
Jasmine flickers the phone away, and it drops from my hand. “Whatever bullshit is going on. I didn’t do it.”
“You think I got time to publish crap. Look-” she took another step towards me. Her height, a good head over me, made her more intimating. “Let me lay down a bit of reality. You’re in Pandora Academy, home to the wealthiest. Someone other than me researched your background isn’t a surprise. Someone else who wants to push you down? Still not a surprise. So, don’t go around accusing others.”
Jasmine isn’t wrong. Even when they don’t say it, there are alot of people who hate me here. There’s no logical reason for them to dislike me. I’ve never interacted with them. But, who I interact with does matter. They matter a lot in this world. Not everyone is fond of those who matter.
Jasmine presses the emergency button again. The ride resumed. The elevator doors spread open, and she steps out. “Come on, Vaughn. Don’t be so surprised. You knew this day was coming. Even when it’s not me, someone else will do it. Want my advice to live a better life? Stay away from Greyson.”
“Says the girl who wants to get into his pants.”
She smirks, “An advice with multiple meanings isn’t a surprise either.” She didn’t deny it. Of course, she didn’t. Because it’s the truth. I watched as she made her way towards the double doors.
Even if Jasmine didn’t leak my past self, she isn’t unsatisfied with the result.
I drag my legs back towards the dormitory. When a reflection appears, I was shocked to see how I look—a complete mess. I squatted down a step on the staircase and sat there until the sunset.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
What a lie.
I tugged on my hood and went back to the dorm room. Inside, the lights were dimmed, Josh was beside his desk, and Ricardo was gone. Quickly, I made my escape towards the bathroom.
I wasn’t fast enough. Josh blocks me from the door. I swallow as the warmth eloped toward me. “Let me see your face.”
His tone wasn’t welcoming.
I’m not surprised.