I was not OK.
I was not OK and I had not been OK for a long time now.
Maybe if I started telling the truth from now on, I would find it easier over time. So far, it wasn’t helping as much as I thought it might.
After the whole confrontation and a horribly awkward goodbye, I managed to limp back home a little before 11:00. Luckily, I wasn’t even actually bruised up that badly; a few scrapes on my knees and ribs were the worst of the fight I had gotten into. It was probably a good thing alcohol had been flowing freely around that party, since those boys had likely been too drunk to really hit properly, and none of them seemed to remember much at all from that night when I saw them later in school. All I heard from them was idiotic bragging about rounding the bases with some cheerleaders, and that was it.
After the party, I didn’t expect things to go back to normal with Lucy, and I was right. A few more weeks passed, and although we weren’t exactly ignoring each other, I could tell she was trying to give me space, which I appreciated. Even though Liz and Willow had warned me against saying anything earlier the week of the dance, I was able to sit with the others again.
It had been lucky, hearing about the party from a couple of cheerleaders passing by in the halls. Liz had immediately told me not to go, and I knew it was kind of stupid, but...I had to. I needed to see her, as bad as that sounded.
I had slipped out of the house with no trouble, and hiked all the way to Ben Rivers’ house, which stood out from how unbelievably huge it was even compared to the houses in our neighborhood. I had snuck in, then spotted Lucy and Layla with the host himself heading into a dark room, which I assumed was the dance room. I followed.
It had been so busy, so swarmed with people I had only ever glimpsed in the halls, but had never dared speak to. I pushed my way through, nearly tripping over some drunk girl’s heel. Then, as I was straightening up to look around--
There was a tall boy directly in front of me, and I couldn’t tell who he was exactly from his back, but one thing was unmistakable--his tongue in Lucy’s mouth.
It was like red clouded all of my senses, drowning everything out as I fought not to sway at the sight in front of me. How could she--why would--
Then I saw her hands, barely visible but just enough so under the flashing lights, pushing out as if trying to shove him off, and everything else became clear.
White-hot anger took over, and I barely registered my feet moving as I sprinted straight towards them. The only thoughts racing through my mind as my emotions took control were GET AWAY FROM HER GET AWAY FROM HER GET AWAY OR I’LL KILL YOU.
Then I vaguely remembered shouting something like, Get away, you asshole, and launching myself at him like a bullet, and we were fighting. Then his idiot friends showed up, and started trying to drunk-diss us in defense of their dickhead leader. I wasn’t entirely sure what made me react the way I did, but I provoked them like I truly had a death wish, and it worked. Maybe a little too well. I was outnumbered, and the next thing I knew I was scrambling to my feet, running away from Lucy yet again. If there was one thing that hadn’t changed it was that I was still too much of a coward to face her even after risking myself in a fight I knew I would lose.
I still couldn’t believe how much I had revealed. How much of the miserable truth I had shouted out at her.
I had revealed a lot of things I wasn’t sure I had been ready to tell, but it had all come out in a fit of anger, which in hindsight, hadn’t been exactly ideal.
But some small part of me thought she understood, in the end.
There had been this look in her eyes when she had seen me laughing and ranting like a lunatic, as if she was seeing right through me. It was that look, that knowing look, that both scared and comforted me more than anything else.
Then she had hugged me until I could stop shaking. She had put her arms around me and held on even as I had declared my hatred for her and all that she was.
No one had ever really done--would have ever done anything like that for me.
I had said it countless times before, but Lucy James really was something special.
I still avoided saying anything to her though if I didn't have to, and the others seemed to catch on and none of them, not even Liz, teased anymore about our ‘close’ relationship. It was almost peaceful, nearly back to normal, with the exception of midterms (but that was a whole other level of stress entirely that I didn’t want to really get into yet). I needed some time to think about my life other than my debilitating crush, not that I necessarily considered it a bad thing.
So I had other things to worry about. Namely my first job, and how I was going to be late on my first shift. I had gotten a part-time job at the movie theatre, which was always crowded, especially on the weekends. I was in charge of ripping up tickets, and directing people to their respective theatres. One after the other, people lined up while I forced myself to smile instead of hiding in a corner somewhere and told them where they needed to go. It was a somewhat tedious routine, but at least I was getting paid.
As I ripped tickets in half and handed them back, my mind wandered to other things. It wasn’t ideal for concentrating on the here and now and all that, but I couldn’t help it. My brain was typically in a constant multi-tasking mode, whether it was planning several ideas at once, or creating random daydreams and fantasies almost like something out of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It did that in class as well, which was also a struggle because of how difficult I found it to just sit still and listen to whatever my teachers were saying.
I had never been officially diagnosed with ADHD, but it was probably a close thing.
Oh, well. The management at the theatre wasn’t very efficient, so they probably wouldn’t notice if I was slacking off or not anyways.
“Hey,” Gabe, one of the supervisors said to me. He was one of the younger employees, only in about his early 20’s, and I liked him because of his unassuming, calm attitude. He wasn’t overly perky or even condescending like a lot of the other staff members I had had the misfortune of meeting earlier. “I’m putting someone else on duty with you for the next two-hour shift, alright?”
I nodded, and he waved another employee over to start ripping out tickets on the other side. “Just don’t get messed up--but I’m sure you’ll be fine. See you later.”
And he walked away, leaving me with just the other girl.
We worked in silence for the next 10 minutes or so, not bothering to say anything to each other. But as the lines got shorter as it got later, there was little to do to fill up the awkward silence between us. Finally, she said, “Hey.”
“Hey.” I glanced up. She was a tall, very thin Asian girl with long wavy black hair and dark eyes.
“I’m Kitty.” She said. Christ, was that a cool name. And I wasn’t even being that sarcastic. My mind immediately jumped to X-Men and I half-wanted to ask her if there was the slightest chance she could phase through solid matter, but I quickly snapped out of my geeky thoughts as she continued, “I just moved here.”
“Oh.” I said, cursing my inability to carry on a conversation with my inept social skills. “Cool. Uh, where from?”
“Halifax.” She answered.
I was surprised. “Whoa. Nova Scotia, huh?”
“Yeah.” She nodded. “It’s...a lot different from here.”
I nodded, agreeing. I had never been to Nova Scotia, but I had always wanted to go. Lucy would have known more. She was always going on vacation somewhere or another. Or maybe Crystal. This year I had been told she was going to either Russia or Iceland.
“You’re an artist?”
I looked up, startled. “Huh?”
“Are you an artist?” She asked again patiently.
I nodded, a little confused. “Yeah, I guess. How’d you know?”
She gave me an extremely serious look. “I’m psychic, obviously.”
It took us about three full seconds before I cracked up at her sarcasm. How could I not? It was similar to something I’d say on a next-to-normal daily basis.
“I noticed the sketchbook earlier,” Kitty pointed it out on the chair when we stopped chuckling. “And the pencil sticking out of your pocket. You were playing with it in between handing out tickets.”I looked down, mildly surprised to see my fingers still twirling the aforementioned pencil around subconsciously. It was such an instinctive action, I hadn’t even noticed I was doing it. “Huh. I didn’t even realize.”“I figured.” Kitty shrugged. “Everyone always fidgets in some way.”“And you?”“I play with my hair,” She confessed. “I can see that.” I raised my eyebrows as she braided and unbraided a stray wave.“So you noticed all that when you first started working over here?”“Yeah, pretty much.” She admitted. “I like making deductions.”That was a little interesting. “You a Sherlock fan by any chance?”Her eyes lit up, and she grinned widely, pointing at me. “Yeah! You watch Sherlock too?”I grinned back. I had a soft spot for anyone who shared an interest in my favourite shows. Of course, I supposed in some tiny way that included Layla to a certain extent, but...
“I love everything about it,” Kitty gushed, and I smiled.
“What’s your favorite episode?”
“Oh, Scandal In Belgravia. What’s yours?”
I thought for a moment. “I really like the wedding episode, The Sign of Three. Or The Great Game.”
“Yeah, I like The Great Game too. But not the wedding episode so much.”
“Oh, yeah? That one has a really compelling plot though…”
At least now it looked like I wouldn’t have to spend the rest of the next two hours standing in silence.
When the shift was finally over and we were given permission to go home, I headed straight for the exit. Kitty followed.
It was warm outside, but there was still the remains of dirty snow on the paved stones surrounding the outdoor mall. It was sort of sad to see that quite a few of the restaurants were closing down, or moving to new locations. The theatre itself was a definite stay, but the local pub and a couple clothing stores were all but already gone. The only trace they had ever been there to begin with were a few “Closing” signs.
I guessed nothing stayed, no matter how much you wished otherwise.
“It’s nice here.” Kitty said quietly, coming up behind me. “Don’t you think so?”
I shrugged non-committedly. “I guess.” I zipped up my windbreaker and pulled the hood over my head. I looked to her awkwardly, not sure how to depart. “So, uh...see you next shift?” I turned and began to walk away.
“Wait!” She called.
I turned back. “Yeah?”
She fiddled with the ends of her long sleeves, looking embarrassed. I had to admit it, I thought it looked just the slightest bit endearing in a way. “Um, I don’t really know how to get home from here. Could you tell me how to get to Grace Street?”
“Oh, you live on Grace Street?” I repeated. “What a coincidence, I actually live just a few blocks away.” After a moment’s hesitation, I added, “I guess I can walk you there, if that’s OK.”
Her eyes lit up hopefully, and I could tell that she hadn’t hoped for this much.
“Really? Yeah, that would be a big help, thank you!”
“Well, c’mon.” I gestured for her to catch up. “It’s this way.”
The walk from the theatre back to my house was about 20 minutes, but I found it took longer than it usually would’ve taken me alone, usually with my earbuds in and music blasting at full volume. This time, though, was different. Kitty and I kept talking long after we had left the outdoor mall, and it wasn’t dull in the slightest. Typically, with my inept social skills, I would have resorted to just giving up and turning on my music, but Kitty was a natural at steering the conversation, albeit asking the occasional odd question about favourite movies and shows, and I was happy to pitch in whenever I wanted to. I had to admit, it was more of a pleasant change than I expected compared to what my ordinary walk home was like.
Kitty appeared quiet and cool on the outside (like quite a few people I knew, honestly I was starting to think I had a preferred type of friend), but she was a lot more friendly than appearances initially suggested. And it was nice to not immediately weird someone out after meeting them for the first time, if my previous track record with other people was anything to go by.
Kitty told me about Halifax, and living and visiting other regions in Nova Scotia, and I got envious of the description. Prince Edward Island seemed almost like a fairy tale land from Anne of Green Gables, a place made up by L.M. Montgomery. The red dirt roads, bright green fields and meadows and shining ocean coast sounded more at home in The Wizard of Oz. If only our town was that nice. Although we did have a ton of parks, museums, and a particularly nice downtown area to compensate. Not to mention an extremely low crime rate. I supposed it was rather better than nothing.
“I miss Nova Scotia,” Kitty said wistfully when she had finished. “It still feels pretty weird.”
“I bet.” I answered. The farthest I had ever moved was when I was 7, to my current neighbourhood only about 20 minutes away from where we had lived previously. Uprooting from everything I had known and grown up with to come to a little city immersed with trees and tall buildings didn’t sound that great at all. I respected her for not giving in and venting about having to deal with all that instead of talking about other things.
“I miss the coast.” She sighed. I nodded in sympathy. “Even more I miss… the seafood.”
I snorted at that, and she looked pleased, cracking a smile.
“So you go to Lake-in-March?” Kitty asked next. She pulled a slight face at the name, but not mockingly. “Is that really what it’s called?”
I nodded. We got that reaction (or similar ones at least) a lot.
“Is that meant to be a pun, or is it just me?”
I shrugged, and she grinned. “I like it. I even think I might like going there if just because of that.”
Oh, now that was a coincidence. “You’re gonna go to Laken March?”
“Sorry, now when you say it like that, I can’t keep a straight face.” She giggled while I rolled my eyes, resisting the urge to smile as she had most definitely ruined the name of my school for me forever.
“Still...it’s pretty cool that we’re gonna be at the same school.” Kitty pointed out. “Then I know I’ll know at least one nice person.”
I shook my head.
“What?” She looked confused. “Did I say something wrong?”
I nodded solemnly. “Yes, you did. Something really wrong.”
Now she looked worried, panicked even. After letting it sink in for another minute, I decided to put her out of her misery.
“I’m not a nice person. Not at all.” I felt my lips curl as I looked up at her. “In fact, you could even say I’m a demon.”
She stared at me blankly until I was the one who started to wonder if I had said something wrong. Then she laughed loudly, and despite my previous reservations, I followed suit.
“A demon, huh?” She raised her eyebrows. “That’s too bad. And here I was hoping the first person I met would be the next in line to make world peace.”
I shook my head mock-sadly. “It’s a shame. I’m sorry I had to be the one to tell you that.”
“Wow, Faith. Way to disappoint.”
“What can I say?” I raised my shoulders exaggeratedly, the next words coming out a lot more hesitantly than the rest. “It’s...it’s what I do best.”
After some more chatting (it’s that what I was really going to call it?), I learned that much like myself, Kitty didn’t do a whole lot of sports (and by not a whole lot, I meant practically none at all), but did like to draw and sing occasionally, although she offhandedly commented that she wasn’t very good. After a moment’s hesitation (I wasn’t good at interacting with other people, OK?) I reassured her that I was certain she was much better than she gave herself credit for. She brightened up a little, and I found out she had extensive knowledge of a huge variety of different songs, everything from the most popular ones always on the radio, to K-Pop (especially K-Pop) and even a few internet parodies, including my personal favourite: After Ever After by the YouTube channel Paint.
After a bit of nervousness, we eventually sang the entire song, even though I was a little rusty on the lyrics, it was still hilarious how well-timed the whole thing ended up being, and we both ended up giggling for a while after that. Normally, I would have been way too nervous about doing something like that with someone I had just met, but Kitty somehow made me feel at ease. And besides, I hadn’t had this much fun since...well, since with Lucy.
And maybe I was just tired of being lonely. Like Alex might have said, in a patronizing tone: You’re not as much of a rebellious loner as you’d like to believe, Fay.
“Hey, maybe you could show me your art sometime.” Kitty suggested amiably.
OK, now that I was a bit reluctant about. Singing was one thing, but some of my drawings were a little (OK, a lot) more personal. But I had gotten off to meeting someone with a good start, and I didn’t want to ruin that by outright refusing. I settled with an echoed, “Yeah, maybe sometime.”
“What type of drawings do you do? Like, realistic, or more...cartoon-y?”
“’Cartoon-y’?” I raised my eyebrows.
“Like anime, and stuff.” She corrected, scowling at my semi-mocking echo of “cartoon-y”.
I thought about it for a second. “Uh...I kinda do a bit of both, I guess. But the animated style is a lot easier.”
“Do you take art lessons?”
“No, I taught myself.” I paused before asking, “Do you draw?”
She shrugged. “Sort of, sometimes.” She added quickly, “But not that good.”
I figured judging from what I had seen of her so far, she was likely at least better than she thought she was. It was definitely the same situation with her singing.
“Your singing is actually pretty good.” I offered.
She looked surprised by that, as if not expecting that response. “Um, thanks. It’s really not that good though, you don’t have to say that to be nice--”
“I’m not, though.” I cut her off bluntly. “Believe me, if I say it’s pretty good, it’s because I mean it.”
“Oh.” She mulled that over. “OK, then. Thanks. Your singing’s amazing, by the way.”
“Do you have talent shows at Laken March?”
“Yeah, but they’re called cafés, not talent or variety shows.”
I grinned at her confused expression. “Wait, so first the school name is a pun, and now you’re telling me they call their talent shows ’cafés’?”
“No lie,” I promised. “It’s an...interesting school.”
“Next you’re gonna say you all study magic spells instead of math,” She said, completely dead-pan.
“I wish,” I said jokingly, but I could feel the pressured reminder of classes at the back of my mind. I still had some review problems to solve later that night…
“But that’s cool,” She declared. “It doesn’t sound like too bad a place to learn.”
I nodded, but I had my reservations about Laken March. Namely their science and mathematics courses, and the dead-eyed look I’d gotten used to seeing from fellow 11th and 12th graders in the halls. Still, compared to other schools I’d been to...it was still marginally better as a whole.
I looked up to where the street crossed about a block or two down onto Grace Street. “OK, we’re really close. Do you--”
“I actually recognize this now,” Her eyes lit up. “And I didn’t get lost!”
She looked so happy about that, I chuckled. “Well, you should probably double-check next time to make sure. The streets around here are easy to remember, but the routes can be a little more confusing. You OK now?”
She nodded quickly.
“OK. Uh, I guess I’ll see you Monday?” I began to walk away.
I turned back. Kitty gave me a shy smile. “Thanks for walking me home.”
I shrugged. “No problem. Just don’t make it a habit.”
I gave in to the immediately solemn look on her face. “I’m just messing with you. It’s no problem, really.”
“OK.” The smile returned, and she turned towards her own street. “See you later.”
I nodded briefly, and walked off towards the corner.
I didn’t get much sleep that night (big surprise there), so by the time Monday came around, I was fairly exhausted. Layla, as was becoming usual, came up with her own theories as to the bags under my eyes. “Did you re-apply that eyeshadow, or did you just get less than three hours last night?”
I flipped her the finger, too tired to vocally respond, and ignored Liz’s cackle as I opened my locker. Lucy, naturally, was already all set with her binder and pencil case, and pulling her long hair up. Willow was reading quietly while leaning against her locker, and Crystal was chatting to Lucy while she finished tying off her ponytail, nodding at whatever Crystal was saying--something about a nightmare encompassing her coworker holding her hostage and robbing the tutoring school where she worked. From what I could hear, it actually sounded like a fairly interesting dream, despite Crystal’s obvious dismay and half-joking claims of being unable to look that particular coworker in the eye anymore.
I checked my phone for the time and realized that I had been lounging by the lockers for long enough. But when I closed my door and looked up, I saw a familiar girl entering at the end of the hallway, if somewhat timidly. She caught my eye as she approached, and smiled, giving a little wave. Although I felt the motion was awkward, I gave a tiny wavy back.
“Who’s that?” Liz asked.
“Exactly. Who?” Layla echoed, her tone a little more hostile than I would have appreciated.
Kitty came to a stop beside us, her smile faltering slightly as she took in the number of people standing there. “Hey, Faith.”
“Hey.” I greeted. “This is Liz, Layla, Willow, Crystal, and--and Lucy.” I cursed myself for stuttering on the last end of the introduction, but thankfully no one seemed to notice, too wrapped up in meeting the new girl. Liz nodded briefly, as was her custom towards unfamiliar people. Willow gave her a small smile, and waved from the book she had in her hand. Layla pursed her lips and looked Kitty up and down, which must have made her uncomfortable, but she didn’t show it. I decided to follow her example, and resisted the urge to throw something at Layla’s face. Crystal stepped forwards and beamed at her. The sight of a far friendlier face seemed to make Kitty relax a little. “Hi, so is this your first time at Laken?”
Kitty nodded, the hint of wariness fading from her face. “Yeah, just moved here.”
“Oh, cool.” Lucy said. “So did you move here from a different part of the city?”
“Or a different province, or country?” Willow added.
“Yes, where are you from?” Crystal asked.
“Nova Scotia.” Kitty answered, handling the sudden onslaught of questions with more ease than I would have been able to. I moved closer and further answered, “She’s from Halifax.”
“So when did you guys meet?” Crystal asked next. “Or wait, have you known each other from before?”
“Yes, when did you two meet?” Layla questioned, her perfectly-outlined brows creasing suspiciously.
“Do you always repeat everything you hear?” Liz sniped at her.
Layla turned to her and scowled. “It’s something new you clearly haven’t heard of. Manners.”
“Yeah, obviously it’s new to you. I can see that.”
“Do you always have to be such a--”
“I’m not trying to be anything. It’s just that you always--”
Liz and Layla split off into another argument while Willow tried to steer the conversation back towards Kitty, clearly uncomfortable by the drama. “Um, so! If you wouldn’t mind answering…”
“Oh, right.” Kitty replied, looking relieved at the shift in topics. “We met about a couple days ago. Faith and I work the odd shift together at the movie theatre.”
“Cool,” Lucy said with a smile...but there was something slightly off about it, and if I hadn’t known her as well as I did, I would have missed it entirely. It was as though the expression didn’t quite meet her eyes, like she was hesitating. But no one else seemed to notice, so I kept my mouth shut.
“So are you going here for the rest of the year, then?”
Kitty nodded happily. I supposed it must have been since she was relieved not to have to change schools again so soon. “And the year after that.”
I stared at Lucy. It was as if she was trying very hard not to show true emotion. The smile she had on looked to me nearly as fake as if someone had painted it on her face.
“Anyway,” I spoke up. “The bell’s gonna ring anytime now. We better get to class.” I looked to Kitty. “Do you know how to get to your first class?”
“I have Math today, I think.” Kitty said. “It’s a Day 2, right?”
“Yeah. Hey, actually I have math right now too. With Ms. Lane?”
“Yeah!” Kitty answered quickly.
“Nice.” I let a small smile slide. In my side vision, I saw something darken in Lucy’s face, and Layla and Liz had finally quit arguing to look at us.
“Let’s go, then.” I nodded a quick goodbye at the others before gesturing for Kitty to follow me down the hall. The classroom was on the first floor, so we had to fight out way past a crowd of rushing students (we were much later than I had initially realized), and we just barely made it in before the morning bell rang, and the national anthem followed, playing over the PA.
Kitty started singing ‘O Canada’ for at least the first verse before she seemed to catch on that literally no one ever actually sang along, and lapsed into an awkward silence, only made more so by the confused looks she got from other students.
Ms. Lane was at her computer, booting up the PowerPoint on the Smartboard, and Kitty looked around the room panickedly, reminding me once again of a deer caught in headlights.
“Kitty.” I whispered, as I sat down in my usual spot. She shook her head distractedly. “Sorry, not now, Faith, I’m trying to find a place to sit.”
“Kitty,” I repeated, louder this time. She still didn’t look. “Faith, I told you, I have to find a seat right now--”
“Kitty!” I hissed, and she turned at last. I gestured at the empty seat beside mine, and rolled my eyes as dawning realization finally appeared on her face. “Oh.”
“Damn right,” I commented, wincing a little at my harsh tone. I tried to make up for it by pulling out the seat for her to sit.
“Thank you,” She said gratefully. I just shrugged in way of response.
Ms. Lane finally got the presentation up and running, and stood to address the class. She was a slim woman in her mid-to-late thirties, with long brown hair and she might’ve looked younger if her face didn’t have quite so many tired lines. Today’s lesson was on more advanced functions, and I had no freaking idea what was going on. Junior and senior math classes at Laken March were said to be hellish, and to all extent and purpose, the rumors were absolutely true. It was so bad, it was even largely joked throughout the school that the teachers in the math department spent all their time trying to one-up each other by seeing whose class could drop the most by midterms. I hadn’t even been there that long, and I knew all of that already. It just went to show what one could learn from unfortunate circumstance.
It was this difficult class in particular that seemed to make the voices louder, and every time we had a test or quiz, my heart felt like it was going to pound straight out of my chest from the nerves. It seemed like no matter how hard I (or quite a few others in my class this semester) tried, it never seemed to result in anything above a ‘C’.
What are you doing? You can’t keep up with this, you might as well be saying you can’t do anything.
Math is the most essential form of education, and you’re a fool for not understanding it.
“Faith?” Kitty’s voice snapped me out of my thoughts. She had her notebook open, with a pencil in one hand, giving me a slightly worried look.
“You were kinda...staring off into space, there.”
“Oh. Yeah, I do that sometimes.” I dragged said gaze away from the wall, and tried to focus on the Power Point. Ms. Lane’s voice was harsh and a little grating, although I doubted she intended it to sound that way. It wasn’t that she was not a good teacher, I was sure she was, in her own way, but...I couldn’t connect with her at all. Not in teaching, not in the way she taught the course, and certainly not personally. It was a no-win scenario, and I wished I knew a way out of it.
After Ms. Lane had finished, she set us to work on the questions she had displayed on the board. There would be no further explanation, and although she claimed otherwise, asking questions always seemed intimidating and I didn’t find her the most approachable person to begin with. Her teaching ethic was very much “learn on the job”, but to me it often sounded more like “you don’t understand this, you’re screwed”.
Math in Grade 10 had seemed significantly easier.
“Hey,” Kitty nudged me. “What did you get for this?”
I glanced over from where I was working through the questions. And...she knew exactly what she was doing. Of course she did.
I looked down at my own blank sheet. The numbers weren’t making any sense. There was no way I was going to be able to relate, so I mumbled, “Um, I don’t know. I’m not done yet.”
Thankfully, she seemed to accept that easily, and went back to work. By the end of the period, I had struggled through most of the practice questions, but even then I wasn’t entirely sure if I had gotten the answers right or not.
I had Art next, which was a relief. I slid into my usual spot, my hood pulled over my head and my headphones blasting loud music. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lucy enter, then sit down beside me, nodding a quick greeting before Ms. Castle began the class.
It was nearing the end of the semester, so we were going to be working on our summative. It was to be a personal art piece, but it had to reflect a relevant issue in our society at the same time. The typical medium was canvas and paint, but Ms. Castle informed us that she had had students who had even made sculptures, written poems (that was more of an English class thing) sewn clothing, or made short films (although that one wasn’t highly recommended). “Don’t worry, I’m open to most art forms,” She assured us. “If you have a different medium you would like to try out, discuss it with me and we’ll see if we can make it work.”
I pulled open my sketchbook and took the rubric sheet Lucy handed to me wordlessly. I didn’t really care about the medium in particular, but I did actually quite like Ms. Castle, and I did want to do well on the assignment. It did, after all, count for at least 15% of my final mark.
Lucy was reading over the rubric intently, one finger tapping on the table. I knew her worried look right off the bat. I wasn’t too surprised. Art had never been one of her fortés, although Ms. Castle had praised her on effortful creativity from time to time.
Overall, I trusted her to figure this out on her own, but something still made me move my chair a little closer and ask: “So. Have any ideas yet?”
She started at my question, then shifted back into her intense focus, shaking her head. “No, not really. Maybe one or two ideas.”
“Oh, yeah?” I leaned in.
She paused. “Actually to be honest, I’m kinda lost.”
“Big surprise there.” I remarked.
She scowled, and after a moment’s hesitation, gave me a playful shove with her shoulder. I understood the wariness. It had been a while since either of us had just joked around with each other.
“Want any help?” I asked slowly. She visibly brightened at the question, but then the slightly apprehensive look reappeared just as quickly. “You sure? You want to help me?”
“What are friends for?” I said, and she opened her mouth to answer, looking even more wary than before. “Yeah, but--”
I sighed and bumped her with my shoulder. “The answer’s yes, I want to help you. So what do you say?”
She laughed when I nudged her, and after a moment’s thought, answered, “Yeah. I’d love your help.”
“OK.” I said simply. “So...what do you need help with?”
“Uh…” She tapped her cheek with her pencil as she thought it over. “...everything?”
“Oh my God,” I muttered. “Of course you do.”
“Can’t back out now,” She smirked. “You’re the one who offered. You’re stuck with me.”
“Then I am seriously re-evaluating my life choices.”
About half an hour later, we were in agreement that Lucy really did need to work on a freaking ton of stuff for the summative. She had too many different ideas, and wasn’t confident about any of them. She was so overwhelmed, she had even proposed sewing sock puppets and having them fight each other in a death match. Even I wouldn’t have been able to guess to what tragic extent the summative situation was.
Lucy rested her head on her crossed arms on the table dejectedly. I huffed and blew my bangs out of my face tiredly. “Great, OK. Progress is...zero. You have to put some serious thought into this, Lucy.”
“I know,” Lucy answered in the form of a muffled groan. “I’m in trouble.”
“‘Trouble’ is putting it lightly.”
“What can I say?” She shrugged without bothering to look up. “People say I’m an optimist.”
“They might be right.” I muttered. “The bell’s going to ring soon.”
She lifted her head to look at me wearily. “Thanks anyway, Faith. Guess this is something I’ll just have to figure out later.”
“Well…” I hesitated as a new, completely (not) desperate thought came to mind. “If you want more help, maybe we can...we can...uh…”
Lucy raised an eyebrow as she waited for me to finish my suggestion. This may have been a terrible idea.
“...We can work on this at one of our houses? Together?”
Lucy paused, and I contemplated the existence of my voice altogether if all it was good for was announcing fairly stupid personal plans.
What was I thinking? It had only been weeks since the whole party-breakdown thing, and now I was legitimately suggesting we hang out at one another’s houses? Oh, yeah, really amazing plan, Faith. Throw your insecurities in your crush’s face, then turn around a few weeks later and beg them to hang out again.
In my head, I knew it sounded bad, but at the same time, there was this desperate part of me that didn’t want whatever this recently uneasy relationship of ours to last forever. Even if it may have been for the best. It was weird, coming to that realization. A year ago, I would have just given up by now on trying to recover what I thought I had lost. This wasn’t going to make all of the negative stuff that had happened between us go away, but I also knew that I missed my friend, and not the beautiful, unattainable girl I fell so hard for, but the one who still tried to cheer me up even when she didn’t know what was wrong.
That Lucy was the one I wanted right now.
“Before you answer,” I spoke up again before I could lose my nerve entirely. “This isn’t some ...some plea, or anything. I’m not trying to screw everything up again. You don’t even have to say yes. I just want--” I had to think over my words carefully here. I took a deep breath, and looked her straight in the eyes. “I’d like us to be friends again.”
Lucy looked taken aback, her green eyes widening. OK, this may have not been the best idea.
“OK, anyways,” I said, losing whatever composure I had retained beforehand. I began shoving my supplies into my bag and made to get up as the bell rang, releasing me from this hell. “Nice talking to you.”
“Huh?” I paused halfway up between my chair and the table.
“Sure, I’d be fine with us hanging out to work on the summative.” She pushed up from the table to stand beside me. “And with...the whole ‘friend’ thing.”
“Oh,” I said. Then it hit me. She hadn’t said no. To any of the proposals. “Really?”
“Yeah,” She answered, and with a crooked smile that somehow sent heat flooding to my face. “It sounds like a plan. We can work out the details later?”
I nodded, unable to keep a brief smile off my face, then headed out the door for lunch.
“Faith, can I talk to you for a minute?” Ms. Castle called just before I left. I turned back to see what she wanted. “Yes?”
She smoothed down the front of her flowy blouse, pushing back the sleeves. As usual, she had faint paint spots covering her forearms, evidence of messy artistry. It was somewhat admirable how she didn’t seem to worry about her appearance when it came to finishing up art projects. “There’s a competition coming up, and I wanted to let you know in case you were interested.”
“An art competition?”
“That’s right.” She nodded. “It’s a special contest for high-entry artwork, and I was wondering if you wanted to enter.”
An art competition sounded dull. I did love art, and I did like competition, but...I wasn’t sure if I was up for it. The last time I entered an art contest for school, I hadn’t won anything, and I didn’t even get my entry back, which sucked. It had been a nice charcoal self-portrait outlined in metallic copper and gold paint which had taken me longer than I wished it had.
“Uh, I’m not sure,” I answered lamely. At least it was the truth. “When is it?”
“It’s not until the end of second semester, so you have a long time to think it over,” Ms. Castle tapped her paintbrush against one arm. “But any participants must hand in applications by the end of February.”
That was still a few weeks away from now.
“You should hear something on this later, but I thought I’d tell you now since, well--” Here she pulled a face. “--Since no one can actually hear the announcements to begin with.”
I snorted and shook my head, agreeing. Our PA system was faulty to begin with, and that combined with the huge amount of people talking during the announcements in the morning made it near impossible to listen to.
“The other reason I’m telling you this is because of your progress in this class.”
A jolt of panic shot through me. Oh, God. Was I failing Art now too? I would never be able to live this down, and there went my shot at anything for the next two years…
“You’ve progressed at an incredible rate,” Ms. Castle continued, cutting off my pessimistic thoughts entirely. “I’m very impressed with your skills--both before, and now. You have potential. Have you considered pursuing a career in the arts field?”
I tried not to laugh. The fact that she was praising me so highly was great news, but as for the career part...to me, that was just so unlikely.
“Um, I’ve thought about it before.” I tugged on my sleeve. “But aren’t most teachers discouraging against getting art degrees or something?”
“I’m not ‘most teachers’,” Ms. Castle said proudly. “And on the contrary, there’s a wide range of jobs in art available. It’s not as hard to get hired in the field as people make it out to be.”
“I see.” I nodded slowly. I believed her. But even if what she said was a little better, it still didn’t make much difference.
“The art competition isn’t your average submission,” Ms. Castle informed me. “The most usual medium is paint and canvas, much like our summative, but it’s also more open to the use of other materials. The winner will receive a scholarship offer as well as a money prize, and the two runner-ups will also get money prizes. No matter what, I wanted to bring this up to you because there will be a lot of scouts present. This is a great opportunity for getting some recognition, you know, putting yourself out there.”
OK, now that sounded even more appealing. I had gone from ‘probably not going to do it’ to ‘definitely considering it, maybe’. “I’ll think about it.” I finally told her. She beamed at that, reminding me once again why she was one of the only teachers I didn’t hate so far.
“OK, great! I really hope you enter, Faith. I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I have a feeling you have a good chance of making it. Good luck!”
Personally, I doubted it, but on the other hand, I really hoped she was right.
Bio was a bit nicer than it had been for a month or so, especially since Lucy seemed to have taken my whole “I want to be friends again” statement to heart, and we partnered up for an experiment involving mashing and straining strawberries in order to extract and observe its DNA. It was a fun experiment to begin with, made even more outrageously so by the fact that Lucy was unwilling to take it too seriously, pretending the strawberries had little voices, squeaking, “Don’t crush me!” or “I’m not ripe! I’m too young to die!” or “Have mercy! Just eat me!” We cracked up so hard, I dropped a couple of the strawberries on the floor and our teacher shook her head at us in mock-sadness. We stopped as I bent down to pick them up, but then I couldn’t resist saying, “And that’s the tragic reason why strawberries should have life insurance,” that set us off again.
Accounting was more dull, and our teacher was an easy marker, but always gave out tons of work and homework every class. Not that any of the assignments were ever that difficult, but it still took time to finish each one.
I was happy when the final bell rang, and was one of the first out the door.
I shoved my textbooks into my bag, and waited for Crystal to do the same. It was a recent development, but Crystal and I lived literally a block or two away from each other, so we had decided to walk home together after school for the time being. She was, in reality, a very nice person in general, even if that meant she had trouble finding anything wrong with other people.
Besides, she never asked me about what my situation was like with Lucy unless it came up, and she rarely questioned me about my old school, which was good. With her, it was almost like getting a fresh start, not obligated to tell her anything you didn’t want to.
When Crystal finished zipping up her bag, she stood with a grin. “OK, ready to go?”
I spotted Kitty just down the hallway, and waved to her.
“Hey,” She walked over to the lockers. “You guys going home?”
“Yeah.” Crystal smiled at her. “Got to get some work done, then off to Netflix. Going home too?”
Kitty nodded. “I was thinking of taking the bus. Are you guys walking?”
“Yeah.” I hiked up my backpack a little further on my shoulder. It felt like someone was watching me. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw Lucy getting her jacket out of her locker, glancing at us as she did so.
“How far is your house from here?” Crystal asked. “Faith and I are walking because we live so close together.”
“She lives on Grace Street.” I answered for her.
Crystal looked surprised. “Oh, that’s really close to where we are!”
“If you want,” I went ahead and asked Crystal’s question for her, since I had known Kitty a little longer. “Uh, you could walk home with us.”
At her slightly startled expression, I added, “It’s a nice day.”
Kitty nodded hesitantly, like she was the tiniest bit unsure we weren’t pranking her. Crystal looked pleased. “OK, then, sounds good! Shall we go?”
She stepped beside Kitty as they walked out the doors ahead, already making conversation. “So, how was your first day?”
Kitty said something in reply, sounding far less worried and much more cheerful. Crystal, the second friendliest person I knew to date just had that effect on people, without even trying.
I moved to join them, but paused for a second. I swore someone was still watching us as we left, and when I turned, I met Lucy’s eyes for the shortest moment before following the other two out the doors.
Lucy had not looked happy, and it was the same expression I had glimpsed earlier. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I’d even say she looked the slightest bit...jealous.