This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
Date: March 7, 2013
Keeping a secret can be very exciting. To be trusted to hold something so delicate, to know something no one else knows—things can become pretty interesting. But it was also exhaustive.
Unfortunately, I only realized that last bit in the spring of my junior year. I was sitting quietly in Bio class, my tongue dry and a headache pounding inside my temple, when I started feeling the effects of it.
Usually, classes granted me a brief moment of freedom and relaxation, where nobody would interrupt the teacher’s lecture and the only occasional disturbances were whispered words and paper conversations. I know that sounds weird and definitely not what a normal sixteen-year-old girl would think, but I had my reasons.
Somebody whispered my name, and I turned my head microscopically to the side, indicating that I’d heard it. The person sitting behind me slipped their arm around my chair to shove a tiny, carefully folded piece of paper into my hand.
My fingers automatically closed around it, just as a soft sigh escaped my lips. Here we go again.
Part of me already knew what message the note would hold even before I cautiously spread the paper over my textbook, my eyes following the teacher’s movements. I looked down.
Seven, I’ve got something to tell you later after class! – M
I knew it.
This, sadly, was nothing out of the usual.
I had always wondered why it was that people trusted me so much with their secrets. Or perhaps it was just all one big coincidence that almost my entire batch—close to being the whole school, in fact, told me everything.
A lot of people would gladly swap places with me, to have the opportunity to know others’ deepest secrets. For some, it was simply because they wished to know someone more, to feel as if they were trustworthy, but those were rare. More often than not, people just wanted to use those secrets to their own advantage.
Maybe that was the reason why they trusted me; I didn’t want to hurt anybody and genuinely liked helping other people.
But no matter how goody-two-shoes that sounded, I’m also human and have a lot of limits.
It had started out to be a little fun at first, pretending I was some Mother Goose, but as more secrets flowed into my life, things began getting more complicated than I bargained for. Even for me—and I wasn’t even part of the whole equation. I was only supposed to know the problem and find a solution.
Take Bianca, for example. Before I went to Bio, she had practically dragged me out of the busy hallway and into a quiet corner so we could talk privately. With a blush on her cheeks, she told me about her childhood friend, Brant.
You see, she has had this huge crush on him for almost her entire life. She was still unsure of his feelings for her, but there were times when he’d show some hint of affection that seemed to be for someone who was more than a friend. And just recently, she realized that perhaps she was already in love with him.
Now, although it was less frequent for boys to approach me with their secrets, Brant was one of the few who did. And what did I find out?
Brant liked Bianca for almost as long as she liked him. Great for them, right?
But now there was another girl, Minerva, who just transferred from another school because she used to be bullied there. She confessed that she liked Brant too. He was just so sweet and kind to her, helping her out with her studies, that she couldn’t help falling for him.
This, Brant had told me, was because he was best friends with Minerva’s twin brother, Marvin. And then here was the tricky part: Bianca and Minerva were best friends too.
Cue: It’s A Small World (After All).
I glanced over at Bianca, who was seated a few rows away from me and was laughing at what Minerva just whispered to her ear. They were probably oblivious to the fact that they liked the same guy.
Glad that they’re having the time of their lives, I thought bitterly.
I actually didn’t mind this, really. I loved giving advices and helping people, but there are times when nature should just take its course without any human intervention (that would be me).
But since the aforementioned human intervention was asked for, I had to give it.
So I told Brant, “You should go for it. I think she’ll have a positive response,” and to Minerva, “Well, I’m not so sure, honey. He might just be doing it because he’s friends with your brother. You can’t do anything if the guy likes somebody else. If it’s yours, it’s yours. If it’s not…it’s not, okay?” And just a little while ago, to Bianca, “Just keep the friendship up. You can hint your feelings to him here and there but don’t be the one to initiate. If he likes you, he’ll come around.”
I should get paid for this.
As the class went on around me, I glanced up at the clock on the wall and dreaded for the moment the hands would move to end the class. I begged with all my willpower for it to last a little longer, but I was soon forced to come to terms with the fact that life was simply not fair.
In a matter of minutes, the teacher was already wrapping it up, announcing the homework, and waiting for the bell. I closed my eyes and groaned under my breath, getting ready for what was sure to come.
The bell sounded more like a scream to me when it rang; a scream that said, “Get out of there now!”
And once we were allowed to, I did.
Sadly, there was a reason why I didn’t join the track and field or excelled in any particular sports.
A hand clamped down on my shoulder and I jumped guiltily, a squeal involuntarily leaving my throat. I whirled around and faced a boy with short brown hair and a toothy grin. It was Marvin, Minerva’s twin brother. “Seven, where are you going?” he asked. “Didn’t you get my note?”
I swallowed, guilt burning a hole through my stomach. I theatrically gasped and slammed the heel of my hand against my forehead, saying, “Ah! Sorry, Marv! It completely slipped my mind because I was, uh, thinking about the test in my next class, which I’ve got to go to right now so—”
Marvin looked puzzled. “Um, Seven, we have the same class next period, which is English Lit and there’s no test today.”
I could feel the blood draining from my face, my acting faltering for only a second. I quickly feigned laughter and wiped my brow with the back of my hand in relief. “Whew! That’s—that’s great news! That totally slipped my mind, too. The test I was, uh, thinking about must’ve been for another class. See? I’m getting really forgetful nowadays.” I shook my head at myself for good measure.
Marvin’s confusion and slight worry immediately eased away and disappeared. He beamed at me and said, “Good. Well, while we’re on the way to class, I do have something to tell you.”
It seemed I had not said this specific line enough in my lifetime because here I was again, saying for the umpteenth time, with that stupid smile plastered on my face, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, actually,” he said as we headed together to class. I knew most of the people in school, and as we walked down the hallway, several of them greeted me, hinted that we needed to talk later for some reason. “So, you know my best bud, Brant, right? He’s told me that you’re a pretty good listener. And…I’m getting these vibes that he’s got the hots for my twin.”
I resisted the urge to open my mouth and immediately contradict that statement. I had to choose my words carefully. There was a big chance that if Marvin found out that Brant not only doesn’t “have the hots” for his sister, but also didn’t tell him that he liked another girl, their friendship just might come crashing down.
Two relationships destroyed in the process of one happy love story.
And depending on the words that I’d offer to them as advice, I would be responsible for what would happen to these four individuals.
Sure, they wouldn’t blame me for it, but I’d be so guilty it would be as if they did. I would just have to hope that they wouldn’t take the opposite direction of where my advices were supposed to be leading them to.
“You think so?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.
Marvin nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah, he’s been helping her a lot with her studies even when she doesn’t get the answer after letting him explain it, like, ten times already.” He rolled his eyes and said, “But anyway, I think he and Minnie look good together. Wouldn’t that be awesome if my best friend became my brother-in-law?” He let out a whoop of laughter.
I grinned at him, agreeing. “That would certainly be great, Marv,” I said then painted a sober look on my face, “but I think you shouldn’t put words he didn’t say into his mouth.”
He considered it for a moment, his head tilted to the side as he thought, and then asked, “What do you mean?”
“Well, he might like someone else,” I said with a light tone, keeping it as vague as possible.
He nodded slowly, as if reaching a point of understanding. “Yeah, I guess. I mean, he didn’t say anything to me about any girl he might like so…” We reached the door of the classroom and he looked up at me with a smile. “Thanks, Seven,” he said. “I’ll ask Brant first then.”
“You do that,” I said. “And you’re welcome.”
His group of friends, one of them being Brant, called him over to the back row, where they were all already seated. He greeted them cheerfully as I went to my own seat, which was beside the window with the perfect view of the sky and the newly-trimmed grass of the field. I squinted at the sunlight. It was a beautiful morning.
Somebody took the seat beside me—a girl with short black hair and freckles dotting her cheeks. Her name was Amanda, and I only knew her because she’d gone to me before for the same reason that Marvin came to me just a few minutes ago. “Hey, Seven,” she said, smiling at me with teeth caged behind braces.
“Hi,” I said, flashing a smile her way.
She turned around in her seat so she could face me, and leaned forward. Her dark eyes darted at the sides to check for eavesdroppers before she whispered, “She’s at it again. Remember the last time she did it?”
I stared blankly at her for a moment. What was her secret again?
I searched quickly through a folder in my brain where I kept all the things they told me but—
ERROR: FILE COULD NOT BE FOUND.
This had been happening a lot lately, actually.
A ton of them would come up to me, pulling me to the side and whispering, “He asked me out!” or “What you told me really worked!” or “Code 1654, Seven”—seriously, was I really suppose to know what that meant?
It had been more subtle earlier when I was talking with Marvin, but whenever I was alone on the way to my next class, lining up for lunch in the cafeteria or even in the bathroom, people would approach me always—always—with something to say.
That’s probably why there are such things as secrets. Because they’re just better off untold and not hammering your brain every single second of the day. It was a wonder I could still remember most of them and yet couldn’t manage to memorize the terms for my History exam.
But right then, my infernal memory block decided to grace me with its presence. I was stuck.
Normally, if I couldn’t remember a secret, I would just laugh, say, “That’s great!” or nod solemnly and add a vague comment depending on their facial expressions and the way they said it, whether it was something to be excited, worried or angry about, and then I’d swiftly slip out of what was going to be an awkward situation.
I obviously couldn’t do that then.
I thought back to what she’d just said. It was either she was the one who came to me with a problem about her mother nagging at her for the smallest things and praising her siblings even when they’ve caused total destruction, or the other one who was best friends with the most popular girl at school and was convinced that her friend hated her and was plotting against her.
“Um,” I started. “I think you shouldn’t worry about it. She probably didn’t mean anything by it and did it not knowing it would hurt you.”
Amanda’s jaw dropped as she gaped incredulously at me. She looked like I’d just shot her mother in front of her eyes. “Seven,” she said, her anger boiling under the surface. “How can you say that my sister didn’t mean anything by it when she practically threw herself at my boyfriend and kissed him on the lips? And of course she knew it would hurt me; I was standing right in front of them!”
Oh, so Amanda was the one who had a love triangle with her sister! How could I forget that one?
“Uh, no, that’s not what I meant!” I told her quickly, waving my hands around as if I could somehow shoo away her anger at me for forgetting her dilemma. “What I was saying was that…maybe she didn’t mean to hurt you because…because…she’s so in love with your boyfriend that it blinded her from seeing that he’s already yours. Love is blind, right? I think it’s…it’s not only relating to the physical appearance of one person to another but also the consequences of their actions.”
Amanda paused, eyeing me warily, and then asked, “Really?”
“I’m not sure but it’s a possibility,” I said, shrugging. “You’re a reader like me, right, Amanda? So you’ve probably read romance novels with your very same situation, but the difference is that your sister is the main character. Maybe—maybe—she thinks that she’s the exception, that perhaps in the end your boyfriend will suddenly realize that he loves her too. Just talk to her about it, make her understand your point while putting yourself in her shoes, too.”
Before Amanda could reply anything to that, the teacher strode into the classroom and everybody settled into their seats. Amanda turned back to the front without saying a word to me, and I could feel my sweat dropping as nervousness held me in its grasp.
I distracted myself by taking notes and glancing occasionally at the view outside the window. I could see another class jogging in the field, one of them being a boy with red hair. He ran faster than the others, and as they asked him to wait up, his laughter boomed with freedom and joy.
I was watching him with a small smile on my lips when I felt something nudge my hand.
I looked down at my desk to find my second piece of passed note for the morning. I checked to see if the teacher was looking and when I was sure he wasn’t, I unfolded the paper to see message within.
Sorry for exploding like that earlier. It’s just been really hard for me these days. Anyway, I think you might be right. I’ll talk to my sister tonight. Thanks, Seven. – A
I turned to look at Amanda, who was already staring at me, waiting for my reaction. I smiled at her, reassuring her that it was alright, and nodded. Relieved, she grinned at me and returned to her own copied notes and idle doodles.
I closed my eyes and with a sigh, rubbed my temples. This was going to be a long day.
Later, as I opened the door to my house and sauntered in, my phone vibrated in the pocket of my jeans—again. This was for the eighth time all throughout the way home. Just as it was normal for people to practically lay their secrets at my feet, texting me their problems or calling me wasn’t out of the ordinary either. Most of the time, I just chose to ignore it and excuse later that I didn’t notice it or didn’t get the message.
I took a deep breath and immediately smelled the delicious scent of fish being fried. My feet carried me over the wooden floorboards, which creaked in familiar tones, welcoming me home from a whole day out in the harsh world full of strangers.
I ended up in our kitchen, which looked almost the same as it did the day we bought the place. The counter was polished to a shine, the drawers and cabinets were empty of dust and cobwebs. Insects were nowhere to be found near our food supply, and the utensils used for both cooking and eating were spotlessly clean.
And standing in front of the stove was my hardworking mother, the inky black hair that I’d inherited from her cut in a short bob just below her chin. She looked up at me just as I was about to enter her beloved territory.
“Are your shoes dirty?” she immediately asked while flipping a fish over in a pan.
“Nice to see you, too, mom,” I said, frowning. “And no, my shoes are clean of any mud or wet substances that may stain your gloriously immaculate kitchen floor.”
“That’s my big girl. You know me so well. Now come over here and give your mommy a hug,” she said, grinning at me and extending her arm out. I walked over to her tentatively, avoiding the oil popping in the pan, and wrapped my arms around her waist. She kissed my forehead, her eyes trained on the fish as if it would jump up all of a sudden and run out of the door. “So how was your day?”
I shrugged, opening the refrigerator and bringing out some juice. “It’s just the same as always.”
“Anything new or interesting happening lately?” she asked as she lifted the fish out of the pan and onto a plate. She got another fish and quickly left it on the pan, which immediately sizzled upon contact. She pulled her hand away before any of it could burn her skin.
“If you mean besides the cool new book I just bought on the way home, then nope, nothing.”
She sighed as she added some seasoning to the fish and turned to me with a raised eyebrow. “Seven, you should really do something more for yourself beside stuffing your nose in a book.”
Mom had no idea how accurate her statement was for my current situation. I didn’t exactly tell her that I held almost all of the secrets of almost everybody in school within the palm of my hand—albeit I forgot some of them. The truth was that I was only starting to realize how unjustified the whole thing was for me.
Whenever someone was sinking in a sticky situation, I’d grab their flailing hands and try to pull them out, even if it got me tangled up in the mess in the process. But I couldn’t say that people did the same for me.
I supposed it wasn’t their fault, because I never said anything. I never shouted for help, I never flailed my hand around hoping somebody could see my distress and pull me out—and there was a reason for it. From what I’ve witnessed, heard and been told of, people could easily stab a sibling’s back as they would a potential enemy.
I certainly wasn’t going to trust them in helping me with my secrets and problems. I would just have to find a way to pull myself out.
And with that thought in mind, I didn’t share anything about myself to others, although I was friendly and seemingly “open” to them. So nobody knew that even if I had a lot of friends, I couldn’t find a place where I belonged. Nobody knew that I had a crush on a boy who would never notice me or see me as more than an ordinary-looking girl that he’d passed by several times in the hallway. Nobody knew that truly, deep inside, I was insecure and alone.
As I poured orange juice into a glass, my cell vibrated again. I took it out and glanced at the screen. Seeing the number of unread messages and missed calls there were, I slipped it back into my pocket and said, “That is something I’m doing for myself, mom. It entertains me from this very boring world we live in.”
My mom shook her head at me and flipped the fish again. “Sometimes I wonder if it really was a bad thing that your father and I didn’t have another child. If all our other children turned out like you, I’d be extremely frightened by it.”
“Ha-ha. Funny, mom,” I deadpanned after swallowing gulps of my juice.
She sighed. “Your father’s still at work,” she said, changing the subject. “He’s coming home late tonight.”
“Doesn’t he always?” I asked with a faint smile. My father worked as a lawyer and with the many, many cases he was handling, we seldom got to see him. He loved his job, even if he had to work six days a week. We usually spent weekends together, when he’d take the day off, but sometimes even then, he’d be called back to the office for some emergency new case that needed to be solved right away.
I usually didn’t mind it and mostly appreciated the fact that my dad worked so hard that my mom didn’t even need to find a job to support the family—but I terribly missed my dad.
“Seven, you know that if he could, he would come home earlier and eat dinner with us,” my mom told in a placating tone.
“Yeah, I know,” I said and placed my used glass in the sink. “I’m going to my room.”
“Before you go,” mom said just as I was at the doorframe of the kitchen, “I want to know: what happened to you?”
“Huh?” I asked, confused. “Nothing in particular, why?”
“You look like you were run over by a truck,” she said, giggling behind her hand.
I stared at her, unamused. She probably meant the baggage I had under my eyes, the unhealthy pale color of my cheeks and the dry, chapped lips. I didn’t even want to think about what a mess my hair must be. “If that was what happened, I wouldn’t be here, now would I?” I asked, not even trying to hide my sarcasm from her, but she didn’t mind.
Instead, she smiled and said, “Touché. Dinner will be ready in twenty minutes.”
“Okay,” I mumbled weakly as I treaded up the stairs like a soldier coming from war.
Once I saw the entrance to my room, my stiff shoulders relaxed and I could feel a wave of relief washing over my whole body. I opened the door and smiled as my eyes automatically wandered over to the tall shelf full of different books of varying genres, sizes and colors.
Books have always been a safe haven to me, a key to another dimension where I could be someone who wasn’t Seven Warrilow and have an adventure that Seven Warrilow wouldn’t have dared to join.
I ran my fingers across the spines, their rough textures and the smell of both new and old pages greeting me like old friends.
I took out the book I just bought from its plastic and gazed at it with longing. I could just easily kick off my shoes, curl up into a ball at the corner of my bed and get lost into it.
But I’d have to go off to my journeys later on because I had homework to do.
After carefully putting it beside the last book in my shelf, I headed to my old wooden desk and spread out what I needed to finish. I prioritized the ones that needed to be passed early in the morning and set aside the ones due next week. Once I was finished, I took out my diary, which was a small black notebook, and started to write about my day:
I saw him again. He was jogging in his class, as happy as ever. It always amazes me how full of energy he is. Besides that, today was just like any other day. People came to me and told me their secrets but I’m having a hard time remembering some and it nearly got me into trouble with one girl earlier. It’s a good thing it was only one girl, but anyway, I need to figure this out. I can’t always live like this.
I paused in my writing and then glanced at my stack of black notebooks, which were all lined up on a shelf. They were all Moleskine black notebooks that I’d fallen in love with on sight in the nearby bookstore where I usually bought my books. Seeing as there were only a few left, I’d taken all of it and kept it for future use. I was already more than halfway through the very notebook I was writing in and I had approximately six or so more.
As I stared at the way the black leather shone under my desk lamp, an idea clicked into place.
What if I just wrote down all the secrets I knew instead of squeezing it into the capacity of my brain? That would certainly be easier. It would be like keeping a planner or another diary, but meant for other people.
Buzzing with excitement, I pushed aside my diary and grabbed one of the black notebooks there. I opened it to the front page and started writing.
Bianca is in love with Brant, who also likes her.
Minerva likes Brant and her twin brother, Marvin, approves of it.
Amanda’s sister likes her boyfriend.
Delilah has a crush on Mr. Lancaster (who is a teacher at our school, by the way) and she thinks he likes her back.
Jake and Tiffany are always making out in the janitor’s closet during their free time.
The list went on. Secret upon secret spilled out of the ink of my pen, staining the previously blank pages. I filled one page, two, three, four, and so on. I wrote feverishly, bending over the little notebook as if the wind that slipped through my open window might snatch it away.
When I was done and had encoded every secret I could remember—and there were surprisingly a lot more than I expected—I stared at the black notebook. I had almost reached half of it. I closed it and held it in my hand, and it felt a little heavier than before, like the weight of the world was inside.
I leaned back in my chair and let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding. I was a little closer to understanding what all of those people felt after telling me their secrets, the meaning of their relaxed features and relieved sighs. I felt better…freer, as if I didn’t have to hold the burden on my shoulders alone anymore.
I placed my homework and my textbooks back into my bag and included the black notebook, securing it in a front pocket where I could have easy access to it. I ripped the zipper shut just as my mom called from downstairs, “Seven! Dinner’s ready!”
I dropped my bag on the floor beside my desk and quickly headed out of the room. “I’m coming!”
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