Bad For You

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3

It isn't until that night, long after my mother has gone to bed and I'm rummaging through my closet, do I realize that I don't own a single pair of jeans.

Which is just ridiculous.

I own plenty of leggings, athletic and non-athletic, skirts, dresses, and an entire drawer full of tights and spandex.

But no jeans.

I try to remember the last time I wore jeans, and to my dismay I don't think I ever have. It shouldn't bother me this much, but it does. It's just another aspect of my life that my mother managed to take complete control over.

Annoyed I pull on a pair of black leggings and an oversized off the shoulder baby blue sweater. I start to tie my hair up, then at the last second let it fall back down and shake it out. Frowning at my reflection in the mirror I attempt to tousle my hair in that sexy way supermodels seem to achieve on the runway. But instead of that sexy bed head look, it looks like my hair got into a fight with a birds nest and the birds nest won.

I suddenly have an overwhelming urge to cry.

Just as I'm about to text Hannah that I changed my mind about the party, she texts me first and says she's outside. Great. I quickly reply that I'll be out in a minute before running a brush through my hair and tucking both sides behind my ears. I open my sock drawer and retrieve a pair of baby blue leg warmers that match my sweater and tug them over my leggings. After putting on socks and sheepskin boots I pull on my coat and quickly swipe on some chapstick, rubbing my lips together. Then I square my shoulders in the mirror.

It's fine. I look fine.

I tiptoe over to my window and as quietly as possible begin to pull it open. The pane squeaks loudly and I pause, wincing. After a moment, when I'm sure my mother isn't going to burst through my room door, I steadily slide it open inch by inch until there's enough room for me to climb out. Thank God we live in a one story.

As gracefully as possible I climb outside and shut the window, leaving a small sliver open at the bottom so I can sneak back in. Then I hurry across the street where Hannah is waiting five houses down.

"Finally!" She exclaims as I clamber into the car.

"Drive!" I yell, banging the dashboard and glancing back, afraid my mother will emerge from the house any minute and catch me.

Hannah floors it, laughing as we peel off down the street. "Isn't this exciting?" She asks with a grin.

I exhale and try to calm my nerves, clicking on my seatbelt. "Positively thrilling."

___

Lauryn Hill was one of the richest kids at Interlochen Academy. Her dad was a real estate agent and her mother the manger at the city bank. As such, she did not just simply live in a house like the rest of us poor peasants, she lived in a freaking mansion.

"I can't believe people actually have this much money," I mumble to myself, taking in the extravagant decor and tasteful interior of her home. Except tonight, it's hosting a teenage rager. And there's nothing classy about tacky disco lights, red solo cups, beer breath, and horny teenagers grinding against each other. All on a Monday night.

Very smart.

Hannah and I make our way to the kitchen, squeezing past what feels like hundreds of bodies. Seriously, the living room is huge, and it's been turned into a makeshift dance floor, the speakers blasting Nonstop by Drake so loudly I can barely hear myself think.

"Isn't this insane!" Hannah yells to be heard over the music. She starts bopping her head to the beat, looking as awestruck as Charlie when he walked into the chocolate factory.

"It's hot and it smells like ass!" I yell back, shrugging off my coat. There's nowhere to put it and I wish I had left it in the car. Instead I settle for holding it over one arm. When Hannah starts rummaging through the ice chest I knock her hand aside.

"What do you think you're doing?"

"Getting a drink?"

"Well I hope there's soda inside because there's no way you're drinking."

Hannah opens her mouth to argue, until she realizes I'm right. Letting out a dejected sigh she grabs a can of Sprite and pops it open.

"This sucks," she says glumly, taking a long gulp. She reaches into the chest to hand me one but I shake my head.

"Is there water?" I ask instead.

Hannah shoves a can of Sprite at me. "One soda won't kill you."

Pursing my lips I take the can and tentatively pop it open. If my mom saw me she would kill me. With that thought in mind I tilt my head back and chug the soda down. Once I'm finished I burp loudly and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand. Hannah stares at me with wide eyes.

"Damn girl. Deprived much?"

I laugh and lean back against the counter. "So why did you want to come anyway?"

Hannah shrugs. "I don't know. I guess I just wanted to do something different. You're so hyper focused on your ballet career and I have to work twice as hard as regular students in order to keep my scholarship, there's never time for anything fun. I feel like we missed out on the whole high school experience."

"And you think we can get it back with one party?" I ask dubiously.

"No but...we could try to make the most of the time we have left."

I let her words sink in, thinking quietly to myself. It's true neither of us had a traditional high school experience. I had too much at stake and Hannah had too much to lose. Her parents couldn't actually afford for her to attend Interlochen. She was on a scholarship. So if her grades slipped even the slightest or she wasn't performing well, her scholarship could be revoked at the snap of a finger.

It wasn't any better for me. My mother worked her ass off so I could attend Interlochen. It didn't matter how much I begged and pleaded with her that I was fine with going to a normal school and just practicing at a regular ballet studio. She would hear none of it. In order to be the best, I had to have the best. The best education, the best training, the best teachers. So she scrimped and saved, every penny she made working as a hostess at some upscale restaurant going straight into a savings account to pay for my tuition. On weekends she worked a second job as a waitress at a bar.

That's why a traditional high school experience was out of the question for me. No matter how harsh she was, no matter how many moments I felt like I hated her, my mother had sacrificed so much for me.

I had to prove not only to her, but to myself, that I could do this. That I was worth the sacrifice.

I place my hand on Hannah's arm and she looks at me. "In a few years you'll be playing at Carnegie Hall and I'll be dancing. None of this will matter."

She smiles sadly. "You're right. But then what?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean what happens after?"

I frown. "I...I don't know. I guess we'll see."

"I guess," Hannah bites her lip. Then she shakes her head as if to clear it. "Wow. We're standing in the middle of a freaking party talking about the future when we should be thinking about the now. And right now we're at a party and I intend to make the most of it." She starts waking backward, swaying her hips. "Let's dance."

I shake my head while laughing. "No. No way."

"Come on. Party pooper!"

Hannah sticks her tongue out at me before being swallowed by the crowd. I look around. Everyone is talking, laughing, and having a good time.

Everyone except me.

I stand there alone, fiddling with the top of my soda can until it snaps off. With a sigh I turn around to place it down on the counter when a voice speaks behind me.

"You look so out of place it's comical."

Spinning around I come face to face with Theo. Well, more like face to shoulder. I'm 5'8, so I'm not short by any means, but Theo is at least a good 6'3.

"Having a good time?" Theo asks with a knowing smile.

I shake my head. "Not really," I admit.

"Yeah, I figured. You looked pretty miserable, so I thought I'd come over and keep you company."

"I don't need your pity," I snap. "You don't even know me."

His eyes twinkle mischievously. "Maybe I want to."

"Why?" I glare at him distrustfully.

"Geez. You're not really friendly are you?"

"No, I just don't know you."

"Well then ask me a question," Theo spreads his arms wide. "I'm an open book," he frowns. "But maybe not in here. Not an ideal place for a conversation. Come on, follow me."

I remain rooted in place as he starts weaving through the crowd, and after a moment my feet propel my body forward after him, even though I have no idea why. He leads me to the backyard which houses a huge swimming pool and cabana. There's a few people outside sitting alongside the pool with their feet dipped in or lounging around on pool chairs chatting. The cold night air is refreshing against my hot, sticky skin and it feels like I can breathe again. Bonus: it's much quieter, the music from inside muted.

Theo finds two empty chairs for us to sit and I pull my knees up to my chest. He laughs quietly to himself and I narrow my eyes at him.

"What?"

He shakes his head while chuckling. "Nothing. It's just that we've had two conversations now and I don't even know your name. I've been calling you the girl who can spin really fast on her toes in my head."

I crack a smile despite myself. "Aurora."

"Like from Sleeping Beauty?"

"The one and only."

He hums. "It suits you."

I tilt my head. "What do you mean?"

"I mean Aurora was beautiful but prickly, like a rose."

I try not to dwell too much on the fact that he just called me beautiful and prickly in the same sentence. You know her fake name was Briar Rose."

Theo smiles and my heart skips a beat. Damn him and that smile. "Can I call you that? Rose?"

I open my mouth to tell him no. "Yes," I breathe out instead.

"Cool," he grins. "My name is Theo."

I know that.

"So Rose," Theo starts, twisting a plain silver ring on his finger. "You're a dancer."

"I thought I was the one asking the questions," I cut him off. Theo smiles sheepishly.

"You're right. Go ahead, ask me anything you want."

I think for a moment. "Why Slender Man?"

Theo furrows his brows in confusion. "What?"

"I mean in your rendition of Scream. Why did you choose Slender Man to replace the screaming man? It was an odd artistic choice." Not that I really knew anything about those. My artistic skills stopped at about fifth grade level.

Theo smirks. "Were you stalking me on Instagram?"

I blush. "No. A friend showed it to me." Which was the truth. I wasn't the one stalking him.

Hannah was.

"Sureeee," Theo replies in a tone that clearly indicates he doesn't believe me. Then his face grows somber. "They say when you're in close proximity to Slender Man, you start to experience 'Slender sickness.' It's like paranoia. You start to see things. Nightmarish things. And you can't tell what's real and what's fake. That's kind of what it felt like."

"What it felt like?"

"Yeah. When I was on drugs."

My eyes widen and my mouth parts.

"It felt like a never ending nightmare. And no matter how hard I tried, no matter how much the voices in my head would scream at me, I couldn't wake up," Theo stares off into the distance. "That's why I chose Slender Man."

"You were on drugs?" I whisper. I squint at him, trying to imagine it, but I can't. He doesn't look like a drug addict. Then again, it's not like there's a standard issue drug addict look.

Theo's eyes slide back over to mine and he shrugs. "Yeah. One star. Would not recommend," he chuckles. "Kind of makes me wish I took red ribbon week at school more seriously."

What the hell? How is he joking about this?

"I'm-" my voice is dry and I'm at a loss for words. "I'm sorry."

"What for?" Theo looks genuinely confused.

"I-" I'm sorry that you had to go through that. I'm sorry about whatever happened to you that you felt like there was no way out except through drugs.

"I'm clean now," Theo grins, clearly proud of himself. "Haven't touched a pill or anything in years."

I quickly do the math in my head. He's eighteen. That means he was a teenage drug addict.

"Why would you tell me that?" I suddenly ask.

Theo frowns. "Tell you what?"

"I mean why would you tell me that you used to be on drugs?" My voice rises. "You don't even know me. Why would you tell me something so personal? That's weird."

I think I hate myself a little in that moment.

Immediately I sit up. "Oh my God. I'm sorry. That was- that was awful of me-"

"I'm not ashamed of my past," Theo says seriously, and I find myself unable to look away from his intense gaze. "A lot of people are but I'm not one of them. I was in a dark place, but I managed to escape. Many can't say the same. That's not something to be ashamed of or hide."

Shame burns through me. "You're right. I'm so sorry."

The silence that stretches between us is like a bottomless chasm, and I can't stand it. Before I can stop myself words are spilling out of me. Maybe it's his raw honesty that makes me feel like I can offer him the same, without judgement.

"I have a dance performance coming up. That's why I was at school so early. And if I mess up, if I make even one tiny mistake, everything could be ruined. There's just so much pressure on my shoulders. And I'm afraid I can't carry it all. I have to be perfect, like, all the time. Anything less is failure and the weight of it is slowly crushing me," I don't even realize I'm crying until I lick my lips and taste salt.

Theo tilts his head, studying me, and I can't quite read the expression on his face. "Do you enjoy it?" He asks quietly.

I sniffle. "What?"

"Do you enjoy dancing?"

"God no. I haven't for a long time," my eyes fill with tears again and my voice cracks. "But I don't know who I am without it."

Then I cover my face and start to cry, my shoulders shaking with silent sobs.

If someone had told me I'd be having a mental breakdown at Lauryn Hills house in front of a complete stranger, I would have laughed in their face.

Jokes on me.

"Why would you tell me that?"

I look up, wiping my eyes and hiccuping. "Excuse me?"

Theo frowns. "I mean why would you tell me that you hate dancing. You don't even know me. Why would you tell me something so personal? That's weird."

I stare at him in shock. He stares back.

Then I let out a watery laugh.

"Way to make me sound like an asshole," I sniffle and wipe my nose. I'm sure my face is all red and splotchy. I probably look like a pufferfish.

"But I made you laugh, didn't I?" Theo asks, waggling his brows playfully. I giggle.

"Woah," he leans back. "That was cute as fuck. Seriously, do that again."

There it goes again. That weird fluttery sensation in my tummy. Almost like....butterflies.

"You don't have a filter, do you?" I bite my lip.

"Nope," Theo shakes his head. "Life is already so short, why not just say what's on your mind?"

"Because not everything is meant to be said out loud."

"I disagree."

"We'll agree to disagree then," I pull out my phone to check the time. Shit. It was almost midnight. I quickly stand up. "I have to go."

"Why?"

"Because it's almost midnight."

"Oh yeah," Theo says. "Before your carriage turns back into a pumpkin right?" He grins. "Wait, wrong fairytale."

I smile at his silliness before turning and heading back into the party to find Hannah. This was one of the strangest nights of my life. I basically just bared my soul to a total stranger and bawled my eyes out in front of him.

Surprisingly, I don't regret one moment of it.

___



the brightest smiles hide the darkest truths

xoxo, g💓
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