“You coming over tonight, Rebecca?”
I make the question casual, like it’s no sweat off my back if my best friend can’t come over tonight. Inside my gut twists and rolls with the thought of being alone. She plays with her dyed blonde ponytail, pulling the strands tight to her head to fluff it up higher. She’s not paying attention to me. Rebecca’s one focus is Blair. Blair’s main focus is Rebecca. They make me sick.
“Can’t Linds. I’ve got plans.”
I hate that nickname and no matter how many times I ask her not to call me that she doesn’t listen. She dismisses me with a swish of her ponytail and walks over to plant one on Blair’s lips. I cringe with disgust. For the life of me I can’t understand what she sees in him, besides his muscular body. Muscle or not, it’s not something I’m into.
I re-read the text from my mom and resist the urge to type a pleading note back to her not to spend another night away. Mom’s been at a conference all weekend. I had Friday, Saturday and even Sunday night covered. It’s Monday. She was supposed to come home tonight. Now I’m left scrambling for an excuse to spend the night somewhere else or begging a friend to come to my house for a sleepover. Worse, I have to make my impromptu sleepover sound casual, like it’s an afterthought that me, the so-called perfect girl in this Prep school, wants a friend or better yet friends to spend Monday night at her house. No one has sleepovers on Monday. Even I know that. Thing is, I’m all into bucking the trend. Especially when a friend will keep me safe and they won’t even know it.
Taking the time to look at my reflection staring back at me thanks to my handy-dandy locker mirror I reapply my pink lipstick, add a bit more black eyeliner around my bottom lids and flick my long blonde hair off my shoulders. I look cool and sophisticated thanks to Mom’s recent shopping spree and my practiced ‘I’m fine’ look. I’m totally decked out in designer duds, from my shoes to my new hot purple matching bra and underwear, which no one will see. It’s the top of the line on this bod. Just once I wish I didn’t feel like trash. They say clothes make the woman. My clothes, like the make-up I carefully apply are my body armour. The only scars I have are carefully concealed thanks to my long-sleeved sweater. They are my shame. My dirty little secret I can’t tell anyone.
Armed with my new Coach purse, another gift from mom, I saunter to class. It would not be cool for me to be late so I never am. Appearances must be maintained and just like my good grades, which are totally expected, not accepted, I play my part to a T.
The class is totally boring and I can’t absorb one freaking word the teacher is droning on about. Something to do with DNA, mitochondria and cellular fusion. I hate biology. You of course would never know that. My last test was a ninety-eight percent and I participate in class even though inside it kills me.
“Mr. Turner, I didn’t catch the last part of what you were saying, do you mind repeating it?” I make sure to bat my eyelashes at him and throw in a flirty smile. Sometimes using my looks makes me sick. Not today.
“Sure Lindsay, as I was saying…”
This time I take notes. It helps me concentrate on his class, forcing my mind not to wander into that dark place. An itch starts at both of my wrists but I don’t scratch. Scratching it would ruin the plastic surgeon’s work and piss my mom off to no end. My mom and I don’t talk about the “incident”. That’s her word, not mine. I have another word I like to use, but uttering that causes my mom to break down. Trust me, it’s not pretty.
We went from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Mexico, just the two of us, but not once did we talk about anything of meaning. The five and a half hour flight might have never happened. But it did. The “incident” happened and now…now, I am supposedly all better. As if! And like all mistakes, we wiped all memories of it clean from our lives. Well, that’s how Mom viewed it. Me, not so sure.
Now we live in Toronto. To say I hate this place would be an understatement. Gone is my tree. The one tree that grew up with me. Mom planted it in our backyard, blubbering away about “us” making our own memories when my dad walked out on us. I should have known then. She never once looked back at that relationship, except to look at me. I should have been the wise one. Make one stupid mistake Lindsay and viola, you end up moved away from all you know, including the stupid silly things that shouldn’t matter, but do. Take that tree, which was originally on a piece of property that had been in my mom’s family for close to two hundred years. Mom sold off the acreage to some developer, but not before we trekked a mile back into the bug-infested woods for that damn shrub. Cedar. That’s it. We didn’t think it would survive but that tree did. It grew and grew, so much so, that it became my own special tree. Now, that’s gone. After all the shit that’s happened in my life, I honestly can’t believe I miss that stupid tree.
My mom couldn’t live with the shame of my so-called accident. The reality is she couldn’t live with the gossip and still to this day, a full six months later, she is not interested in learning the truth. I tried to tell her it wasn’t an accident. That didn’t go so well.
“What did he say?”
Without turning my head I answer Megan. She’s sitting next to me, only because she got assigned that seat. Megan, with her mousy-brown hair, is about as boring as you can get. The cosmetic ladies would have a field day with her face. I bet she doesn’t even own lip gloss. I can’t even fathom why she doesn’t try.
Beggars can’t be choosers.
“You doing anything tonight?” I turn my head slightly, giving her a bit of my attention but not all of it. Inside my head I am still going through all my friends, trying to figure out who might say yes to coming to my house tonight. Most of my friends on Monday night have cheerleading practice. Since I couldn’t even try out for the team because of my “weak” wrists lie, I’m not on it. Neither is Megan.
She hasn’t answered me, so I’m forced to look at her. “Megan, you busy tonight?”
She gives me a puzzled expression. “No. Why?”
“Want to come over?”
“Over. Like, as in to your house to do homework or something?” I can’t help notice how her uni-brow furrows in frustration and she’s got a pack of whiteheads on her nose that could seriously use some medication. What she really needs is a good make-over. Oh. My. God. I am a genius.
I move my chair slightly closer to her. “Look, come to my house tonight and we’ll give each other make-overs.”
Her eyes widened and honestly the biggest smile on the planet lights up her face. I feel like a heel. What the hell am I thinking? Oh, I know I’m not thinking. I’m desperate. I can’t believe Megan is my last hope.
“Sure. That would be great. I can come over for a bit.”
A bit. I need her to commit for the night. “I was thinking…you know, there’s nothing going on…why don’t you spend the night?” I gulp. It’s too late to swallow back the words but I know I have just committed social suicide. For a second I wonder which is worse.
Thank god she asks the question in her whisper-like voice. “Yeah,” I nod. “A sleepover, that’s a great idea.” I am so royally screwed. I made her think sleeping over at my house was her idea. It’s not, but if it will get her to commit, I don’t care what she thinks.
“You sure?” she asks.
Not really, but I don’t have anyone else to ask and you’re my last hope. I nod, making sure my smile is bright and full, stretched taut across my face. I notice she’s still taking notes. How the hell can she concentrate on this boring stuff when my guts feel like they are being twisted into pretzel shapes?
“Just you and me, tonight at my house for a make-over. Come around six and we’ll have time for a movie later.”
“You sure your parents won’t mind? It being Monday night and all.”
“My mom’s not home. And my stepfather does not care what I do.” And that’s the truth. He only cares about one thing but that’s not going to happen—if she comes over, that is.
“You are so lucky. By the way, I don’t have any make-up to bring.”
“Don’t you worry. I have enough stuff to outfit my own store. When I’m done with you tonight you can take whatever you want home with you.”
“I wish I had your life.”
I gulp. A flash of terror slides through my skin at her words. If she knew my real life, if she knew what went on in the dark, behind my closed door when mom’s not home, she most certainly would not want my life. I can’t say anything for a full minute. Instead, I start to take notes again. My heart’s hammering away and sweat glides down my new shirt. I’m glad now I put on my sweater.
“You okay?” she asks.
“You bet. Just plotting out in my head what we’re going to do tonight.”
The bell rings. Class is over. I gently close my laptop. No one carries scribblers or school books at this private school. It’s high-tech all the way. The sickening part is that with it being mid-morning, religious class is next. I am not one bit Catholic, even though my mother said we were. I fake my way through religious class much like how I pretend being happy. Guess I learned how to lie from a pro. The worse part about my next class is with it being Monday that means it’s mandatory confessional. Honestly, some of my best lies take place in the privacy of a wooden closet. Just me and the priest, hidden by a silly wooden barrier. I should journal some of my “indecent” things I confess. They even sound exciting to my ears so I can just imagine the hard-on they give that fat, disgusting priest. If there’s one thing I have learned in the past year it’s how to spot a pervert. Trust me, he’s just like Greg, my stepfather, who ever since I turned fourteen liked to sneak into my room to show me his idea of loving. The concept of that type of love is not something I want. If that’s loving, I will take hate any day.
I know something most of my fellow students don’t know. There is no hell in the afterlife. I’ve been there. Died for a good three minutes. I didn’t feel a thing. Only this life is living hell.
“See you at six,” I remind Megan, as we casually join the mass exit from class.
“Can’t wait,” she says.
I can’t help noticing the bounce in her step. It should make me happy. It doesn’t. I don’t even like Megan. She’s a pathetic excuse for protection but she will have to do.
I’m doing time calculations in my head. There is no way I can make it home, which takes me a good hour and get back in time to meet Lindsay at six. Shit! What the hell was I thinking? Oh, I know I was thinking maybe I could pull this off.
Moving away from the school, I wait until it’s totally clear before calling home. No sense getting caught. Using the one public phone within miles, I drop my quarter in and dial, praying no one I know walks by. It’s so not cool to not own a cellphone but like mom points out, “It’s not the end of the world.” Maybe not to her, but for me, it makes me a social pariah.
“Mom, is it okay if I stay at Lindsay’s house tonight?” I tell her about a huge assignment we so don’t have but if lying will make my life easier, I do it. She asks me a bunch of other questions and even threatens to drop off my clothes. Like that’s going to happen? Mom’s been in a wheelchair for the past decade because of MS and the thought of her attempting to make her way to one of the accessible subway lines makes me shiver.
“Seriously, Mom, stop being so over-protective. All is good. Lindsay says I can borrow some of her clothes. Wouldn’t that be cool and amazing. It’s no worry and not a bother. I’ll give you a call…what, what…I can’t hear you. The line’s getting fuzzy. Don’t worry. I’ll call you in the morning, okay? Love you.”
I hang up before she asks once again to talk to one of Lindsay’s parents. Like I’m about to let that happen. No way!
I officially have a good hour to kill before I walk to Lindsay’s house. I know exactly where she lives. Everyone in the school does. She lives in the mega-mansion at the end of the cul de sac about two blocks from the school. Must be nice to only have to get up ten minutes before class and not worry about being late. For a second I let that jealous feeling harden, like a peach pit in my stomach. Then I remember the look on Lindsay’s face when she asked me to her house. It wasn’t a look normally plastered to her polished façade.
Slowly making my way to the city’s library I pass four coffee houses. I’m dying for a cup but yesterday I calculated how much money I’ve been spending on java and figured the money I save by not buying will go to a better use. My mom’s been saving for two years now. She needs at least twenty thousand to cover all her expenses for the MS liberation procedure. At the end of this year, with my no-coffee-buying money I can contribute over four hundred. With my part-time army reserve job I can add another three thousand. It’s not a lot but every penny counts. That’s her motto and me and my older brother live by that. Or, we used to.
I try hard not to think about him. My skin starts to get clammy and for a second I think I’m going to puke. Right there on the sidewalk with all these rich kids walking past me like I’m dog shit. Forcing my gag reflex to stop, I get a grip on my emotions.
Flashing a smile at one of the librarians, I head to my usual haunt. Up two flights of stairs, take a left and you enter the world of specialized literature. It’s my favourite part of the library. The books are all hard cover and bible-thick. Some are written in foreign languages, but most are in Latin or old English. If the kids at school found out that in my spare time I like to study Latin I would be a laughingstock. Wait a sec, I’m already that. Hunkering down in the only chair in this part of the library, I make sure the coast is clear before I haul out my thermos. Time for my own homemade brew. It’s a little cold, after suffering a day in my small locker, but I am not about to pass up a much-needed jolt of caffeine.
Removing my sweater, I think about what I can say to Lindsay. Not a lot comes to mind. We are night and day. She’s rich, spoiled and Cosmo beautiful. Everyone loves her. Me. I’m a nobody. The only reason I’m at the private school is thanks to a scholarship I got through my reserve unit. If my so-called school friends, none of which I really have, knew I was there at the Prep school only because of my scholarship, or if they had an inkling of where I hail from, well I might as well get lice. Seriously, I would be the biggest social outcast and I am not going to let that happen. This school is my stepping stone to getting into a university. Nothing and no one is going to squash my dream. My mom’s counting on me. And that’s why my mouth is shut. That’s why my identity in school has to remain hidden.
I realize I’ve been moping about my life way too long. Checking the time on the large old-fashioned round clock mounted high on the wall, I repack a piece of my sandwich, which as usual, I didn’t dare open or unwrap in school. Tucking my thermos back inside my bag, I get up and stretch. Why did I say yes to Lindsay? Now, I’m going to have to wear my clothes twice in a row, which is so beyond cool I’m thinking of cancelling and going home. But home isn’t home anymore, and I never get asked by anyone to spend the night with them.
I make my way out of the library and head toward her house. My stomach’s feeling sort of queasy. Maybe cold coffee wasn’t such a hot idea. I step up to Lindsay’s house and I’m about to knock on the large mahogany door when it startles me by opening.
“Took you long enough. I was getting worried.” She actually looks like she was. She opens the door wider and in I enter a world so beyond my two-bedroom apartment I almost make a dash for the exit.
Her hand grabs my arm.
“Lindsay, is there someone here?”
A loud booming male voice invades the space as I allow Lindsay to haul me inside the large, airy foyer.
“Yeah, there is. My friend Megan’s spending the night, Greg. That’s my step-father.”
She whispers the last part like I hadn’t figured that out. I’m not stupid. Proof in point the twenty thousand dollar scholarship I got to go to school. What I can’t figure out is if Lindsay meant what she said. Am I really her friend? Or by her panicked expression, am I just the body she needed tonight so she didn’t have to be alone with her step-dad? The fact I understand her body language causes goose bumps to form all over my own.