As the weather grew colder and the months began to pass by just like that, I began to realize how utterly screwed I was.
I had feelings for Lucy James.
There. I said it.
I had feelings for her, and I was pretty sure they would never be returned. Not like that.
I knew she wasn’t good for me. She was too much. She was too bright, too happy, too confident. She was like the opposite of me; weak, pathetic, alone.
Still, that didn’t stop me from staring at her everyday. From sitting across from her at lunch and concentrating more on her than actual food. From staring at her every day and itching to sketch her likeness in my book while Ms. Castle skipped around talking to anyone who would listen. From noticing how she would be constantly playing with her hair during class, the strawberry blonde strands twisting around her fingers as she listened attentively to the teacher’s words.
From noticing how her green eyes lit up whenever she understood something, and understood it well.
I could never hope to feel that kind of confidence. It just wasn’t me.
Their words were always at the back of my head, even when I tried to shut them out.
Aren’t you supposed to be at the top of your class? You would be if you stopped messing around.
You’re not supposed to eat like that. Girls are not supposed to eat like that.
What are you wearing? You look like a slob.
I’m surprised you even accomplished that when you’ve done nothing to deserve it.
Kids in school muttered to each other, shot me looks as I passed by. I had long since grown used to ignoring them. Besides, Lucy would always shut them up with a look if they ever got too close, and no one dared to challenge her.
It was both rewarding and frustrating at the same time. I didn’t want someone protecting me, no matter how good it felt.
No. What I had learned was that I could only depend on myself.
But Lucy James was sure giving me a hell of a lot of reasons to forget that.
One lunch, the words got so insistent, I excused myself from lunch early, waving off my new friends’ questions.
Now that was a word I hadn’t used in a long time.
I went to the girl’s washroom and locked myself in the farmost stall, curling up on the seat with my knees to my chest.
Why don’t you work harder? Your mother and I always did.
He is right. You just don’t care enough.
“I do,” I whispered, drawing my knees tighter to my body. “I really do.”
You could so much better. You should do so much better.
This is for attention. You don’t really think ahead.
You don’t worry enough about your future.
“I do think about my future,” I said weakly. But it was no use.
Laziness. You can be such a lazy, disrespectful girl.
“No, I’m not.” I shook, closing my eyes. “I’m not, please. I--I’m sorry.”
You should be ashamed. You should be trying to improve.
We shouldn’t have to tell you this.
I rocked back and forth, chanting. “Stop it. Stop it. Stop it--”
Complete lack of discipline.
Think about what you’ve done.
I gasped. The memory had been too vivid that time. I buried my face in my knees, digging my fingernails into my skin. The pain helped me focus. The pain drove them out for at least a while. But they would always come back, no matter where I went.
I heard the sound of the bathroom door opening. It was probably just some random student who wasn’t stuck feeling sorry for herself and being a total mess. I stayed absolutely silent and waited for them to do their business and leave.
I looked up, startled, at the sound of my name. Liz. That was Liz’s voice.
“Faith?” She asked again.
I bit my lip, rocking forwards. Should I answer her? Maybe not. Maybe she would just go away.
“Faith, the others wanted to make sure you were alright. You looked a little sick.” She paused. “Do you need to go home?”
No, I wanted to reply. I don’t. Because home is where I feel the least safe. Home is where I get reminded again and again that I’m not doing as much as I should be. Home is the last place I want to go.
“Faith?” She tried again. Damn, she could be insistent. “I know you’re in here. Are you sick?”
I had to reply, or she’d stay and ask more questions I wasn’t prepared to answer. “Yeah.” I said, and my voice came out shaky. I cleared my throat and tried again. “I’m fine, really.”
“Lucy was worried.” Liz said.
I rolled my eyes, even though I felt a surge of warmth knowing that she was concerned. “I bet she was. But I’m fine. Really. So you can leave now.”
There was a pause. I was hoping she was just about ready to walk on out.
Instead she gave a slight, “Come out.”
“Come out.” She repeated seriously. “I want to make sure you’re not gonna pass out or something.” “Liz. What part of ’I’m fine’ do you not understand?”
I gave up on trying to be nice. I just wanted to be alone, like I usually was. Alone and hidden, like always.
Her answer was blunt, and truthfully, I wasn’t even surprised by it.
“Because I know what it sounds like when someone isn’t OK. And that’s exactly what I’m hearing right now.”
I groaned inwardly, rubbing my hands on my knees. They could have sent anyone else except Liz and I might’ve been left by myself after the first few minutes. But I knew Liz too well, and she was always extremely attentive, even to the smallest of details.
If I didn’t already know she wanted to become an environmental engineer, I would say she should totally look into a career as a detective.
“...Fine,” I mumbled, giving in. “I’m coming.”
I wiped my eyes on the back of my loose sleeve and got off the seat, unlocking the door. Liz was waiting outside, her arms crossed, and her face emotionless. I stood uneasily in front of the now-empty stall, one hand wrapped around my elbow.
I couldn’t read her expression at all even if I wanted to.
Out of all the people I had known back in elementary, let alone people I actually thought of as friends, Liz was the one person I had stayed in contact with the most. I didn’t confide anything more than a few insults of the private school I had been attending at the time, but there would be times, just a few rare times when I would dare to ask how Lucy was doing, since Liz informed me they had later become unlikely friends. I didn’t know why, but that fact actually made me happy, in a weirdly nostalgic way.
It was as if two such contrasted people could get along so well, it gave me hope for myself. That maybe one day I could put aside our own differences and finally tell Lucy how I felt--how I had always felt--about her.
Not that it made any difference now. If she was a star, I was an asteroid--doomed to fall to the lonely Earth.
Liz continued to stare at me, and I resisted the urge to squirm on the spot. It was if she was pinning me in place with those pale blue eyes of hers--deep and unyielding.
“Happy?” I forced a smile on my face. It was extremely difficult, especially at a time like that, but I had had a lot of practice over the years hiding what I was really feeling. But I was starting to get frustrated at it all. Wasn’t it bad enough that I could never reveal my true feelings, let alone get called out for them?
Another long, tense moment of silence, as Liz’s eyes roved over my face.
I was half-expecting her to suddenly jump up and yell “Psych,” or something completely random to try and get me to crack up. She was weird like that, but it was also kind of endearing, somehow. She would always try to cheer people up in her own twisted way.
Then she did the completely unexpected.
She stepped forwards and put her arms around me.
Normally I would have tensed up at the sudden contact, but I was so startled I couldn’t even bring myself to. Liz was even worse than I was--not only did she despise physical contact, she also had a constant personal bubble which no person smart enough would ever dare enter. She didn’t just hate personal contact, she wasn’t the touchy-feely type of person in the slightest.
And yet here she was, hugging me tightly in the middle of the empty bathroom.
To my horror, I felt a tear escape and slide down my cheek. Fortunately, Liz didn’t seem to notice. “Even if you can’t talk about it,” She said in a low, deathly quiet voice. “There is someone you can depend on.”
Was she talking about herself? Maybe. But she already knew that I knew that I did trust her to a large extent.
“I know how you feel about her,” She continued. Another tear came running down my face at the blunt statement. It was the truth, but spoken so simply it made me feel like I was breaking apart.
“And I support you. I thought you should know.”
“Thank you.” I mumbled, squeezing my eyes shut and willing my pain away.
But it doesn’t matter how I feel.
After a moment, she released me quickly, stepping backwards.
“OK.” Her face turned from soft back to stern. “You should come back down and finish lunch with us.”
“When did you become such a mom?” I joked weakly, scrubbing at my face with my sleeve.
She rolled her eyes, which was much more like her, much more like the cold, straightforward Elizabeth Zoch I knew.
“Believe me, I have no idea.”
She turned to leave, pulling the door open. But before she left, she paused and turned back. “But when you’re concerned, someone has to be.”
And she left, the bathroom door swinging shut behind her with a creak.
I waited a moment before following, making sure my puffy eyes weren’t too noticeable before exiting the bathroom.
When I got back to the table, Liz acted like nothing out of the ordinary had happened, for which I was immensely grateful for.
“You alright?” Lucy looked at me, deep concern filling her jade eyes.
I nodded quickly, my chest swelling in silent protest. And when she turned to listen to whatever Layla was gossiping about now, I used all my willpower to try to ignore how naturally she slipped a warm arm around my shoulders without ever asking anything more.
Winter break was coming up soon, and as usual, I wasn’t much looking forward to Christmas.
It wasn’t really that I had anything against the holiday itself, it was more like there wasn’t anything to do during the whole two weeks we were let off of school.
“At least December’s better than November,” I muttered out loud, sketching out the wing of a blackbird with painstaking concentration.
“Don’t let Liz hear you say that,” Lucy nudged me. Her sketchbook lay abandoned under her arm. “Her birthday was the 13th, remember?”
We were in Art, in our last week of school before the break. The room had been decorated with sparkly white and blue streamers and paper snowflakes hanging from the ceiling.
Our current assignment was choosing and drawing pictures of different wildlife--in this case, birds.
Lucy’s sketchbook, however, lay criminally abandoned under her arm. I paused from my work and looked at her sternly. “You should be working.”
“On what, capturing the beauty of seagulls?”
At my frown, she huffed and pushed her wavy hair back. “You know I’m useless at this, Faith. I don’t think I can even draw a stick figure to save my life.” “Now, that’s not the attitude I want to hear!” Ms. Castle raised an eyebrow as she walked around our table. Lucy grinned sheepishly at the remark, picking up her pencil. “Oops.” I rolled my eyes, but couldn’t help breaking a tiny smile as I continued to draw.
Ms. Castle stopped and looked over my shoulder at my work. Normally, I hated when teachers stood behind me like that, but this was Art Class, and honestly, it was one of the only things I truly liked about Laken March. Plus, Ms. Castle was a little different from the other teachers I had had up till now. A bit odd, a little clumsy, even scatterbrained in a way. A bit of a misfit. I smiled at the thought. In that way, she was somewhat like me.
“I like those curves you’re adding to the wing structure,” She pointed out, one finger down at my page. The back of her hand was smeared with paint. Another thing I liked about Ms. Castle was that she didn’t care about getting messy either, as long as it was for the sake of art. It made her seem more real, somehow. “And the texture you’re adding here--” She gestured to the beginnings of feathers around the base of the bird’s neck and head. “--It’s very detailed, precise. Excellent.” I nodded my thanks, and continued on as she walked away.
Lucy scooted over closer, craning her neck to see my work. Her elbow dug into my ribs. I nudged her away. She complained, trying to push her way back, but I held up a hand in front of her face without looking up. “Artist busy. Artist at work. Cannot be disturbed by bird-hating layabouts.”
“I’m not a layabout,” She protested, pulling her hair back. The multicoloured band on her left wrist slid down her arm. She normally wore two bracelets, one with a sunflower pattern, the other plainly striped. I wondered where she got them, and whether they were gifts or something she had bought for herself.
“Well, you are.” I chided. “And wasting a perfectly good sketchbook and art supplies that are begging to be used.” She pouted, resting her head on her arms on the table. “I’m starting to think you care more about your art than me.” “Too true.” I answered sweetly, quickly dodging her half-hearted swipe.
“So what are you doing over the holidays?” She asked next, leaning back in her chair. I shrugged in way of response.
“I heard Crystal’s going away this year,” She informed me. “Like...Puerto Rico, I think. How about you? You going anywhere?”
“No.” “Me neither. I think her parents want to avoid the cold as much as possible.” She chuckled. “But the rest of us have to stick it out.” I nodded absentmindedly as she continued to chatter on about the blistering cold winter usually brought, especially to our city, and how she was hoping to go skating on Canal Tempête, the twisting canal that intersected the city from the West to the East.
I listened, but it was with only vague interest. The truth was, I wouldn’t be doing much of anything during the holidays, as per usual. My family was usually out with other relatives across town, and they hardly ever asked me to come along, especially since I was apparently supposed to be using the time studying for the upcoming midterms after the break. Yeah, right. I was going to be bored out of my mind either way.
I didn’t realize Lucy had been asking me a direct question until she nudged me. I snapped up quickly. “Oh, sorry. What?” “I was asking what you were planning to do during the holidays?”
I faltered under her intent look and question. How was I supposed to answer that without getting the dreaded sympathy card? “Uh, studying. I guess.” I muttered, trying to shrug it off.
“OK, but what about anything else?” She continued to pry. Damn, she was persistent.
“Uh…” I shrugged again and looked quickly to the side, wishing I was more capable of lying to her. But I never had been good at that to begin with, not with Lucy, and it sure looked like that wasn’t going to change now.
“Faith.” I reluctantly looked up at the sound of my name.
Lucy was staring at me again, the intensity of her bright green eyes making me strangely uncomfortable. “Do you not have anything else to do this holiday?” I shrugged, hating myself for not having a better answer. “Um. Maybe.” “Not even spending time with family--?” She accidentally hit a nerve. “No,” I snapped, the tip of my pencil cracking as I pressed down too hard on the page. “No, I don’t. So how about you shove it?”
There was silence, and I cursed at myself for being over-defensive. Lucy had just been asking an innocent question, and I had lashed out without warning. Some ’friend’ I was supposed to be. I didn’t look back up, resuming sketching with a new violence.
Lucy was quiet. She probably regretted ever talking to me in the first place and was thinking of how she would rather switch over to the table at front with the more chatty, social butterfly art students. The students who were probably a hell of a lot of improvement from the shady recluse sitting at the back with a scowl and earbuds in.
I was fully expecting Lucy to say she was leaving, and I sure as hell wouldn’t judge her for it. I would have totally deserved it. Instead, what she said next completely took me off-guard.
“Do you have skates?”
I was so surprised, I dared to look at her. “What?”
She looked startlingly serious. “Do you have skates? Like, skates that still fit and everything.” “Um, I think so.” I put my pencil down, feeling very confused. “Why?”
She sighed dramatically. “Because if we’re going skating, I’ll need to be sure about that.” “Huh?” I was even more confused now. Where was the part where she told me I sucked and left in a huff? “What are you talking about? You...want us to go skating? Together?”
She rolled her eyes as if I was being incredibly dim. “Yes, stupid. On Canal Tempête.”
“I--oh.” I felt my cheeks warm up. “Together?” “What part of this do you find so hard to understand?” She teased, and I scowled at her. “You serious?” “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Because I was...rude.” I felt a rush of shame wash over me. “And I’m bad at apologies, but, um. I should say sorry. About what I said.”
She cocked her head to the side. God, I hated how casual and free she always looked. Then she shrugged. “OK. Good enough.” A grin appeared on her face. “Besides, you can make up the rest by actually coming out and skating with me. And promising to stay until I say we can leave.”
I shook my head, even though I was more relieved than I wanted to let on. “I knew there was a catch.” “You know me too well,” She said in a sing-song tone, leaning back in her chair.
“Unfortunately.” I rolled my eyes, but couldn’t stop myself from smiling. I lowered my voice to a whisper so she couldn’t hear the next thing I said.
“...But I’m glad I do.”