Chapter One: Changes.
Students streamed by, in an endless blur of blue, as I sat on a wooden bench twirling my dirty blonde hair between my fingers, then bit nervously on my thumbnail. Just moments before, my name had been called over the PA system, thankfully interrupting an insanely boring final day of high school. As I sat, I wondered why I had been called. Was I in trouble? Were they about to tell me that they were glad to be rid of me? Was it because I’d finally gotten revenge on my year group’s bully by replacing her lip gloss with glue? For some reason, almost every slight I had caused anybody at the school rushed through my head as fast as a doomed speeding car, and with each memory, I felt my stomach drop, and the blood in my veins grew steadily colder. Finally, after an agonising half an hour wait, the door to the principal’s office clicked open, and an overpowering waft of perfume followed.
“Miss Sheriff,” The principal called as she stepped through the door and waited for me to stand. “Thank you for waiting so patiently.”
Oh, shit. I thought dreadfully as I silently stood up and followed her outstretched arm. The dread inside me worsened when she stepped in behind me and closed the door with another click. I felt like a trapped hare, and I clutched my shoulder bag tightly against my chest.
“Please, sit down.” Moving toward the small round seat in front of her large wooden desk, I lowered myself gingerly, like a scolded child. I tossed my head sharply so that my hair fell in blonde waves over my shoulder, shielding my face from prying eyes.
As the principal moved about the desk, she sat in her oversized leather chair with a heavy foreboding plop. The coldness in my veins suddenly turned to ice, and a large painful lump formed in my throat.
“I didn’t mean to replace Sarah’s lip gloss with glue!” I blurted thoughtlessly, my cheeks burning hot.
“What?” the Principal replied quizzically, blinking.
I froze. The blood quickly drained from my already paled face. Whoops. She hadn’t known about that, and there was I, blabbering it out like a god-damned idiot. I was sure to get into trouble now.
I slowly closed my mouth and slumped back into the chair, wanting to feel exceedingly small. The principal opened her mouth, and I flinched, expecting to be ripped apart like the angry shredding of a letter, but what followed was a simple sigh and a look of disbelief.
“I’m not going to say anything about that, given that it’s your last day here.” She sighed.
I suddenly felt myself turn almost to jelly, and the lump in my throat slowly vanished as relief washed over me like a warm bath.
“If I’m not getting into trouble, then why am I here?”
“Ah, I’m glad you asked!” She replied, a smile returning to her face as quickly as it had vanished. I mentally shook my head. “I wanted to talk to you about your final exam.”
“Is something wrong with it?” I asked in a small voice, feeling the icy coldness return. Before I knew I was doing it, my thumbnail was again chewed like gum. Click, click, click...
“On the contrary!” She laughed as she tossed a dismissive hand. “It was excellent!”
All this lack of information and hidden intent over the issue slowly started to irritate me. I wanted to pound my fist onto the table and loudly demand to be told whatever it was, straight out.
“So why am I sitting here then? If everything is fine?” I asked through clenched teeth as I attempted to staunch the rising anger.
“Well, the creative half of it was so good that we decided to send it off to a special University for gifted people. We received an e-mail from them this morning, and they’ve expressed an interest in having you attend.”
She stopped, wearing an expression of utter excitement, waiting for me to express similar joy, but the only emotion that filled me was confusion in the silence that followed. There was no such school to my knowledge, in this country. Also, what exactly WAS this school? What was this whole ‘gifted’ thing? Suddenly, my world and everything I’d come to know and love was slowly collapsing around me like a neglected building. I felt frozen, dizzy, and sick.
I opened my mouth and inhaled slightly to form words that were slow to arrive.
“But…” I whispered, using the smallest voice my throat could muster. “There’s no such school here, is there...?”
Since being told this, I glanced up at her, and a wave of nausea took me. I quickly dropped my head and tried to mentally beat it down. She just sat there, beaming at me like I had been given a chance of a century, and here I was, dealing with something akin to a reality collapse. I wished then that I hadn’t opened my mouth and said anything.
“No.” She replied gleefully. “This school is in America.”
Crash and shatter went my reality like it had been made of glass, and the principal had just dropped a bomb on it. I could do nothing but watch as the shards flew figuratively across the room.
No, I thought, as the total weight of what was being asked to do, smacked me. I have a life here! Friends! Family! And someone that loves me! I can’t leave! I won’t! Why the hell was all this decided without my knowing?!
“This is all bullshit!” I cried loudly as I stood, tears stinging my eyes. The principal’s eyes grew wide with shock, and she recoiled back into her chair. “How dare you just decide something like that on your own! This is MY future! MY call!”
I lifted a tightly coiled fist and finally got to pound on the desk, causing the principal to start.
“I can’t be expected to just up and leave my life for some bullshit school I’ve never heard of! I have a life here, you know! I have things I want to achieve here!”
Rage bubbled and boiled in me like water in a kettle. Finally, I saw the principal open her mouth to utter words that I’m sure even she didn’t know, but I raised a hand to silence her.
“You know what?” I said acidly, as I saw nothing more than red. “Fuck this shit.”
With that, I stormed from the room, wrapped tightly in my anger. I walked briskly and with purpose through the sea of students congregating in the halls. I cared little about anyone that I bumped into, leaving behind an army of glares. As I walked, rage-induced thoughts fluttered in my mind like a dozen butterflies. This was disgusting! Outrageous! Wrong on so many levels!
In my rage, I hadn’t taken in the surroundings. Everything seemed to be nothing but a blurred span of space. Before I knew it, I stood at my car, a lime green old-fashioned Volkswagen Beetle. I rummaged for my keys, jamming them angrily into the old lock. I threw open the door and tossed my bag onto the back seat. I then threw myself with equal carelessness into the driver’s seat and slammed the door closed. I yanked on my seatbelt and turned the key before music blasted me with an eardrum-busting loudness. It was an angry emotional song, and I almost laughed at the utter appropriateness of it.
I shifted the car into gear and crushed the acceleration pedal with an unusual heaviness, hooning it hastily from the school’s car park.
On the drive home, having angry music blaring helped to shave away the severity of my rage. Over time, it faded into a depressing sadness as the faces of my family and friends flashed into my mind. I didn’t want to leave them, and the longer they lingered, the heavier my heart became. It was only when the face of my boyfriend came through that it crashed and burned. Blake was a beautiful person, inside and out. His face sat in my mind for a long while, with his icy eyes and dark brown hair. He’d be broken if he found out, and though my mind played that scene, I was uncertain of how I’d handle it or what I’d do.
Turning down the familiar street in which my house resided, I slowed the car to something of a roll, tucking it away neatly against the curb. I glanced nervously toward the garage door, expecting Blake and our friends to be there, waiting for me. But the driveway was void and emptied of them. A feeling of relief washed over me like an ocean’s wave. With a sigh to legitimise this, I yanked the keys from the ignition and pushed open the door. As I stepped out, I closed it with a loud thud behind me.
I hadn’t even stepped onto the lawn before my mother opened the front door and waited for me to meet her. Curious over this strange development, I carefully studied her face, wondering if I somehow had done something wrong, and I was not to enter the house with my skin intact.
“We should talk, you and I.” She said calmly as I stepped passed her.
“Yes, we should.” I snapped before I blinked, suddenly taken aback by my unexpectedly aggressive tone.
I expected to be scolded for my behaviour, but Mum quietly shut the door behind her. Though it shouldn’t have, her silence spoke louder than any words, and I found myself reaching boiling point yet again.
“You know something, don’t you?” I said darkly, turning to face her, burning like fire.
Mum’s stoic face faltered slightly, and from that point on, avoided my gaze. My rage burned hot, and I felt myself losing control.
“Tell me, dammit!” I cried, stomping my foot.
“Yes, I know about the University.” She replied calmly as she nervously twirled her dirty blonde hair between her fingers.
It was then that I felt something inside of me snap, and a powerful, angry sadness flooded through. I felt as though I was drowning.
“How long?!” I wailed as angry tears spilled down my face.
“About a week. Your Principal called your father and I to tell us. We were elated, of course, and we debated telling you that night, but we thought it would be best if you found out through your school.”
“Are you serious right now? How the hell is finding out through someone else better than hearing it from you guys?!”
“I’m sorry, Rebecca, I am. I realise we should’ve told you earlier, but we thought you’d be happy about it. It really is good news!”
I saw Mum’s attempt at a pleased smile through blurred vision, but it was fragile, disappearing as quickly as it had come.
“It’s not good news at all!” I wailed. “It’s terrible! Terrible news! I don’t want to go to another country, to some shitty, unknown school for God knows how long! I want to stay here!”
“But everybody thinks that it’s the best thing for you.” Came the voice of my dad as he entered the hallway, undoubtedly to back up my mother, who now looked on the verge of tears.
“Apparently!” I yelled as I threw up my arms. My whole body shook with heightened emotions, and I had to take in great breaths just to remain standing. “Everyone except me! The one person whose opinion should matter! Yet SOMEHOW it doesn’t! How does that work?!”
“Of course your opinion matters, Bec!” Mum cried, tears shining in her big olive-coloured eyes.
“Really?” I countered snidely. I knew it was a lie, and in my anger, I wanted desperately to challenge this. I quickly shifted my mannerisms and voice to something sweet and daring. “So, I can go ahead and say that I’m not going anywhere, and that’ll be the end of it?”
As predicted, their faces contorted and twisted disapprovingly, not five seconds after I had voiced the challenge.
“There!” I laughed loudly, hiding the bitter anger behind it. “Right there! It’s set in stone, isn’t it?”
Unable to continue with any semblance of a normal conversation, Mum just turned her face to my dad, her eyes pleading with him to say something that she couldn’t.
“Your flight was already booked, Becky.” He answered calmly.
Everything inside me seemed suddenly to fall to the floor, leaving me speechless, dizzy, and numb. I reached out and steadied myself against the wall. I hadn’t heard that right, I was sure. My anger had somehow distorted dad’s words. He didn’t say it’d already been arranged, did he...?
Hours later, the sun began its descent from the sky, extending the shadows in my room, filling it with a dull light. It was bare as far as rooms went. There was a small chest of draws before my white double bed, and beside it was a tall narrow mirror that reflected my image as I sat propped against my many pillows, with a large drawing pad resting in my lap. With angry drum beats and guitar strings playing in my ears, I had been absently doodling, but as some semblance of consciousness returned, I gazed downward and saw a grey reflection of Blake staring back at me. Pain gripped my heart like an iron clamp, and with a defeated sigh, I tossed the book away and fell back against the pillows, staring at the ceiling.
It wasn’t long in the stillness that grunts, groans, and the occasional whispered swear word were uttered just beyond my window. Despite my sour mood, I couldn’t help the smile that brushed my face.
“You know you can just come up through the front door, the normal people’s way.” I laughed as I pulled out the earbuds. The noises quieted, replaced by scrambling and scraping ones instead.
“You know your parents hate me, Becky.” Blake huffed as he threw an arm onto the windowsill and pushed himself up. His icy blue eyes were always the first thing I’d notice whenever he was around. They were big and expressive, making him a straightforward person to read.
“I’m pretty certain they already know that you come in here.” I laughed as I threw my legs over the bed, walked to the window, and gripped his upper arm to help him up. No words were uttered, but he shot me a grateful glance as he lifted his legs up and over. “You’re not very quiet.”
With one final heave, I was forced back as he flopped loudly onto the floor. Both of us remained still and panting for a few minutes.
“If they do, then they never say anything.” He huffed, grasping at his middle.
I gave a weakened laugh. “It’s probably because they know they can’t stop you. We’ve known each other for most of our lives, in case you’ve forgotten.”
Blake shot me a wounded look, quickly accompanied by a frown. Having caught his breath, he rolled himself up to sit with his legs crossed. I turned to face the mirror, watching him through the reflection.
“Are you coming to my Graduation?” I asked light-heartedly as the pained heaviness slowly returned to my chest.
“No.” He replied with a cheeky grin at my reflection. “Why on earth would I do that? How boring!”
“Arsehole.” I laughed as I reached for a stuffed bear hanging over the top of the mirror and pegged it at him. He caught the bear and inspected it thoughtfully.
As a silence befell us, I watched his curled form, and the pain in my chest grew, threatening to deny me air.
You should tell him. Came a voice in the back of my mind. Tell him you’re leaving him.
I’m not leaving him! I cried, outraged at the voice as I shook my head.
Shifting my gaze from him to me, the girl stood before me, stoic and outwardly unaffected by her inner turmoil. Her olive-coloured eyes were large, brightened by the contrast of her sandy skin. I looked from her face to the large, square emblem on my school uniform and felt instantly hateful. I wanted to grasp it and rip it off, then light the stupid thing on fire.
“Beck...?” Blake’s voice questioned, drifting gently into my thoughts, breaking me from them. “Are you okay...?”
His arms came slowly around my waist, and I was pulled oh-so-gently back against him. He rested his chin uncomfortably on my shoulder and stared at me through the mirror. In his arms, I felt instantly safe, as though they formed some sort of wall, and I would be safe behind them.
I knew it was time to say something, but as soon as I’d formed some semblance of a calm sentence, it fluttered out again like a thousand butterflies.
If you don’t say something now, you never will. The voice informed correctly. He’s waiting, Rebecca...
The pain inside my chest grew to an unbearable level, and I almost had to gasp for air.
Oh, fine! I wailed as I felt tears beginning to burn my eyes like acid.
Before opening my mouth to speak, I tried with all the strength I had to squash all the bubbling emotions, but the result was far less than desirable. My throat constricted, and a large lump formed yet again. I tried to swallow it down, but it had proved painful and impossible. My voice was left timid and squeaky.
“I have something to tell you, Blake.” I began, swallowing hard. But as before, the lump remained large and unmoved.
Blake’s eyes shifted from my reflection to the real me. I caught glimpses of worry, confusion, and curiosity.
“What is it?” He asked. I saw in his eyes that he hadn’t wished to ask the question and that he regretted it immediately.
My answer was a long time coming.
“After my Graduation... I’m ... I’m gonna be leaving here...”
The tears that brimmed my eyes spilled over and slid down my cheeks as I choked out a sob.
“You’re gonna be leaving home?” He asked as he gently gripped my shoulders and turned me to face him, wiping away the wetness on my face.
Through blurred vision, I glanced up to look into those white-blue eyes of his, desperately committing them to memory. Unfortunately, it was far more likely that our lifelong relationship would at this moment be over. I could form no more words, so I silently shook my head as the sadness threatened to drown me.
“Then what do you mean you’re leaving? If you’re going somewhere, I’m coming too. So you don’t need to be sad about whatever it is.”
The words were said with such innocent conviction that the pain I felt only grew worse. But to explain the severity of this situation, I had to find my voice. I HAD to speak.
“No, you don’t understand...” I replied quickly, shaking my head again.
The words began to backlog in my mind, and I suddenly thought to detach myself from him. I thought, perhaps the words would come if some distance was gathered between us. I lifted my hands to his chest and tried to push him back, but his arms were so firmly laced around my waist that moving became impossible.
“What don’t I understand, Bec?” He asked, his voice dripping with concern and irritation.
“I’m not just leaving home, Blake. I’m leaving the country...”
Finally, the words were out, and I expected a certain level of relief, but it didn’t come. It only grew worse, and the emotion spilled out, came in the form of loud, throat scraping sobs. Blake stood dumbfounded and silent. For a time, there was nothing else but the sound of my cries, and it was only after I’d cried my fill that he spoke once more.
“What do you mean you’re leaving the country? Why? For how long? Talk to me. What happened...?”
“My final art assessment impressed a special university in America. The school and my parents took it upon themselves to enrol me there. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone.”
As I answered his questions, the familiar anger I’d felt all day began creeping back, and my hands turned into tight fists against his chest.
“Wow, what the hell?” Blake snapped in anger of his own. “Say no, Bec! Say no! Tell them to fuck off!”
Blake’s anger was so paramount that his entire body shook, and his jaw was tightly set.
“I tried!” I cried as my eyes burned yet again. “I really tried! But it was all organised before I even knew! I HAVE to go! I have no choice!”
Blake snarled like an angry lion and pushed me away as if having me in his arms was suddenly abhorrent. For many moments I stood there, numb and suddenly cold as he paced about the room, glaring at the floor. He ran his hand through his hair many times, spat ugly curses, and refused to look at me.
“No, you don’t.” He said finally, his voice void of emotion. He slowly turned toward me, and his pale eyes shone, speaking volumes about his pain. “Don’t get on that plane. Runaway with me!”
I was unable to voice the words. All I could do was stand there, wide-eyed with confusion. My mind was nothing but an empty fog as I tried to grasp his words. In the silence, his face brightened, and a small smile crept there as though he’d thought up something genius.
“Yeah!” He said enthusiastically, bridging the gap between us and grabbing my hands. “Let’s leave Bec!”
“Ah, I, I, I don’t know...” I stammered as he yanked at my hands. “Isn’t that kind of immature...?”
This caused him to still himself and fall silent. I wondered for a moment if my confused hesitation caused him some great wound. I needn’t have worried, though, for he tossed his head and laughed loudly as he turned his eyes to mine.
“Of course it is! But when I think of a future without you in it... I just can’t...”
Upon hearing the crack in his voice, I felt my heart ache. Looking at him as I did then, he seemed suddenly small, like a child missing his mother. I fell in love with him even more for it.
“Oh, Blake...” I whispered gently as I drew him to me and held him there.