It’s stupidly nice getting to type this post using the keyboard I’m used to.
Not much else has happened in the last week. I did some internship work. I did some novel work (I’m finally almost done outlining!) (and by “almost done” I mean “I have fifty-six pages of notes and if I have to do many more I will have a breakdown”). I did lots of family stuff. (We saw the new penguin exhibit at the Detroit Zoo! LOOK AT THIS CUTIE.) Aaand that’s just about it.
That’s kind of the nice part of summer, though, you know? My exhaustion from the school year has really caught up with me, so I’ve been sleeping a lot and watching lots of movies and generally ignoring the real world. And I’m so grateful for the time to detox this summer.
In honor of summer and detoxing, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a(n ancient) song I wrote the summer after my junior year of high school. (Featuring: a recording of seventeen-year-old Julia very awkwardly singing it, because what’s a blog post without some public embarrassment.)
Too tired to go to sleep
So I think I’ll write a song
Sometimes I wanna miss you
But the day is just too long
And you know, this restless feeling?
It is your fault
I should’ve known not to trust you
With my glass heart
But you said come here
And you took my hand
And you led the way
Past the grocery stand
And you said come here
And you touched my face
Funny how a stranger,
Can never be replaced
Funny how a stranger,
Can never be replaced
These city streets are empty
Without you by my side
I miss the feel of your warm skin
You’d breathe, and we’d be alive
And you know, this reminiscent feeling?
It is your fault
I should’ve known not to trust you
With my glass heart
And I want to say
That I don’t miss you
But that’s a lie
And I want to say
That you don’t mean anything
In how each day
But I miss you
Your sweet breath on my cheek
And I miss you
Without you, my pulse is weak
And I miss you
All those times, you laughed at me
And I miss you
Always thought, we’d be eternity
[Repeat CHORUS x2]
Funny how a stranger,
Can be the most familiar face
Funny how a stranger,
Can never be replaced
Too tired to go to sleep…
(Wow, that is way more melodramatic than I remembered. Good work, seventeen-year-old Julia.)
^You’ll notice the poll this week isn’t for next Wednesday, but the Wednesday after. I’m going out of town next week, so you’ll have a pre-written Wordy Wednesday coming your way on June 8. (However, vote for what you’d like to see on the 15th!)
At the beginning of the month I said I’d eventually explain what my NaNoWriMo username, “cavyheart,” means. I use this username or variations of it for pretty much everything, and it’s kind of really random and weird, so I figured I should give some back story on it.
At this point in time, “cavyheart” is basically just an inside joke with some of my writing friends, harkening back to the days when I thought that was actually an acceptable username to choose on a website–aka, the ancient and far too embarrassing year of 2007: February of seventh grade. Twelve years old. The year I joined the Scholastic’s Write It forums for teen writers (basically Figment before Figment was Figment, only more close-friends-and-community-like).
Part of the Write It community involved lots of terrifying inside jokes, like threatening one another with banana poisoning if we didn’t update stories quickly enough and Larry the Man-Eating Hamster if a plot twist didn’t turn out the way a reader wanted it to. I’m not sure how the moderator of the forums put up with us, but thank God she did.
The most popular types of usernames on Write It, in 2007, combined an animal in the first half and then either “writer” or “heart” in the second half, with “writer” being the most popular. Being the analytical, pretentious little middle schooler I was, I decided to go with “heart” so that I’d be “in” but not TOO mainstream, and then it came time to choose an animal.
Other users had things like “pug,” or “cat,” or “horse.” Totally normal favorite animals to put. Me? I loved guinea pigs. I’d been obsessed with guinea pigs since the fourth grade, ever since I got over my gerbil obsession. So I wanted to do something with “guinea pig” for my username, except that that’s really long, and hey–I was a weird, pretentious little self-absorbed jerk, right? (I’d like to say “who wasn’t in middle school,” but I don’t want to implicate anyone else in the level of jerk I was, because I’m going to assume until proven otherwise that you’re a better person than me.)
If you know guinea pigs well, you know that their more formal name is “cavy.” I figured most people wouldn’t know what “cavy” meant, which meant that if I used it I would have the privilege of explaining it often to my far less sophisticated peers and thus looking uber intelligent and AWESOME (I am shuddering with revulsion as I write this).
So, I chose “cavyheart” as my username on the Scholastic’s Write It forums for teen writers. And the rest–as cliche as it sounds–is history.
The first Chapter One Young Writers Conference solely involved Write It users, so that it wouldn’t be as much pressure as we tried to figure out the whole “running a writing conference” thing. We all got t-shirts with our Write It usernames on them. This is me greeting conference attendees at the train.
Now I continue to use it because it means I get to laugh at how stupid I am and it makes it easier for my Write It friends to find me at different places on the internet. But seriously, it is REALLY weird. I’m not sure if I would go back and change it if I could, since it does do a good job of defining the little weirdo I was in middle school (not that I’m not a weirdo now, but I like to believe I’m a slightly more socially acceptable version of one), but it is a little embarrassing whenever I have to explain it to someone new. (Although hey, now I can just refer them to this blog post and avoid the whole blushing, mumbling, staring at my feet in agony bit, right?)
Have you ever had a really weird username somewhere that the majority of people didn’t understand? Any awkward, strange nicknames from when you were younger? (The people from Write It took to shortening “cavyheart” to just “Cavy,” so a fairly large group of people now know me essentially as “guinea pig.” It’s fantastic.)
Because I was up so late writing Saturday night, I was exhausted yesterday, so I only ended up writing a little under 1.5k, about half of my goal for the day. Which means that I’m behind again. But hopefully I can finish up the rest of the stuff I need to do today quickly enough that I’ll have a chance to catch up. Again.
So I finally convinced my parents to get our family a Netflix account yesterday. Bad decision–since then I have watched two episodes of Once Upon a Time and two episodes of Sherlock and done absolutely nothing of a productive nature. Oops. (Better get on making that mask for the masquerade party I’m going to tonight. That and revising. And cleaning my room. And doing chores. Goodness, why did I get Netflix again?)
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a short story I wrote about half a year ago, for the Requiem Contest on Figment. The prompt asked for a short story, 1,500 words or less, in which love is dangerous. “Memory” didn’t win (and I’m actually glad it didn’t, because the story that DID win is AMAZING–read it here), but I’m still happy with how it turned out.
His hand is warm in mine. I can feel rough calluses, short nails worn smooth around the edges, and skin sticky with lake spray. The outline of the identification chip in his palm matches up perfectly with my own. Wind blasts my face while the lake’s cool water laps around my knees, but his hand is warm, enveloping mine, so my hand is warm in kind.
Moonlight glints off the water, so bright and white and distant that I want to believe it is real, even though I know it is not.
“I miss you,” I say, not looking at him. I am scared to look at him. Another gust of wind carries off the lake, lifting all the fine blond hairs along my arms, and I shiver. I wish we were somewhere warmer—inside his house, with the static-filled blankets, and the old fashioned radiator heat, and his homemade hot chocolate fresh off the stove—but this is the last place I saw him that he was happy, so this is where my memory takes me. This is the only place I ever see him now.
“I miss you,” I repeat, this time quieter.
He can’t hear me. No matter how badly I want to have a new conversation with him, and see him somewhere other than the lake at night, I know reliving this memory is the closest I’ll ever get.
Sometimes I wonder if this is worse, seeing him here rather than not seeing him at all.
I count to five in my head and, right on cue, right as he has every other night for the past week, he lifts his free hand to point to the moon and says, “Look at how beautiful it is, Adena.”
I could cry, his voice is so earnest. I did cry the first few nights. But now I don’t. Instead, I look up at the moon, trying to see it the way he does, trying to find some new meaning in its glowing, hazy light. It is round and full, up in the sky. Heavy like fruit ready to drop. I feel as if I could reach up and pluck it straight out of the stars and hold it in the palm of my hand.
If this was a dream, rather than a memory masquerading as one, perhaps I would.
“I’ve never seen it so large before,” I say automatically, because those are the words I spoke to him when this was real. Even though I’ve seen that same large moon every night this week. Even though I will see that same large moon every night until my guilt washes away, same as the steady, thrumming tide pulls the sand from the shore.
His touch is fading now, his warmth growing weaker and weaker until it is nothing but a cool pressure against my skin—air where there once was a hand, calloused and careful.
I open my eyes to find myself at home in bed, red light creeping in around my curtains and the sound of popping grease coming from the kitchen down the hall. After a minute, I become aware of the salty scent of bacon and the sweaty heat my tangled blanket leaves around my ankles.
I shiver despite the warmth and glance reflexively down at my left hand, grasping at nothing, the identification chip’s glow just barely visible under my palm’s too-pale skin. There is a pang somewhere deep within me, sharp and unnatural. I don’t want anyone to hear me cry, so I stuff a wad of blanket into my mouth and let the cotton absorb my sob and the word on my lips that wrenches its way free, unbidden: “Chandler.”
His name. Always his name.
My tongue is dry against the fabric. I spit it out before I have a chance to start coughing like yesterday, when my mother found me lying with my head dangling over the side of the bed, my blue-tinged fingers spread against the mattress. Despite my efforts not to, I had heaved against the blanket in my mouth while inwardly I urged it to go further down my throat—to act as a snake, to be like a poison. I hadn’t been able to stop hyperventilating for twenty minutes after she finally managed to pull the blanket from between my clenched teeth. The entire time, she stroked my back, her fingers just barely skating over the sticky fabric of my shirt, words of peace and hope flitting past her lips.
Now I sit up in bed, the blanket sliding off me, and the pain changes to disgust at the back of my throat, thick and foul. I try to hold onto that. I try to remember the anger and the embarrassment. I try to remember the flames as they reflected in his eyes, and the thought that this was right. Of course it was right.
I have to believe that, since I was the one who turned him in.
The tile floor is cool beneath my feet, although not in the way the lake was, and I focus on that burning coldness, letting it leach the heat from my toes, as I get ready to face the day. I pretend this is the reason I shiver as I spot my reflection in the mirror on the back of my bedroom door, when truly it’s because of the residual effects of the memory.
He called me beautiful that night, like the moon.
The memory is my punishment for loving him.
Dr. Rafney says I will experience the memory every night until it no longer hurts to think of him; until I am numb as my heels are against the hard, slick surface of the tile. I don’t know how she knows though, since she has never had the misfortune of falling in love. She has never had the misfortune of the human part of her betraying the microchip in her brain—the microchip that states how showing favor for one person above all other people in society is wrong, unjust; dangerous. Because although Dr. Rafney is just as much a part of the aristocracy as I am, and had a microchip implanted at birth just as I did, she has never had the misfortune of meeting someone like Chandler. She has never had the misfortune of the microchip and her brain suddenly becoming two very separate things, with very separate goals.
I blink away the sight of my reflection in the mirror and reach out to open the door.
In the kitchen, Chef is just finishing making breakfast. My mother sits at the head of the long, marble dining table, reading a tablet. In my mind, I can feel her stroking my back yesterday morning, murmuring and tucking a strand of yellow-blond hair behind my ear. She would have done that for anyone. It is her job, as Leader. But I would not have stood in the freezing lake with my nose running and the wind biting at my cheeks for anyone other than Chandler. And that was my mistake.
I sit down beside my mother and smile at Chef as he serves me a plate of bacon and eggs, but I do not eat. The disgust is still strong in my mouth—stale and sour and constant. Dr. Rafney might believe me when I say it is disgust for Chandler, for what he did to me, but every night as my eyes flicker closed and the memory takes over once again, I know that it is disgust for myself. For what I did to him.
I loved him; the microchip can verify it. But my guilt won out in the end. It was hungrier than even his touch made me feel, so I confessed my sin of loving him.
The guilt didn’t go away then, however. They burned him at the stake, for all of society to see, and the guilt changed—but it didn’t go away.
Every night I tell him I miss him. And every night he cannot hear me, because all that is left of him is an echo, fading, unable to think or feel or be. His hand becomes less and less solid each time I take it in my own, and the moon grows less and less bright.
Soon he will be gone, and I will be myself again. Soon I will take over as Leader, and I will lead society properly—unbiased and just and kind. I will not love anymore.
But still there is the image in my mind of his dark green eyes, narrowed against the smoke, reflecting back the flames; the words carrying on the ash and heat, despite everything: “I love you.”
He loved me. And I let him burn.
PS. Must… resist… the urge… to have a one person How I Met Your Mother marathon…
This week’s Wordy Wednesday was the winner of the Fringe Society Contest on Figment a couple years back. It was also part of my Senior Writing Portfolio for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, which received an honorable mention.
(Sorry you’re not getting more of an update on things–I’m absolutely swamped right now between college and scholarship apps and prepping for the Writer’s Digest Conference this spring. Everything should slow down at least a little bit in a couple of weeks though, all right?)
There’s a scar on my left leg that They don’t know about. It’s from this one time my friends and I tried bungee jumping off the bridge at Eastbank Esplanade with bike cords two summers ago. The doctor in the ER said I was lucky that my leg was the only place I needed stitches. The scar is so far up on my thigh that it doesn’t show even now, as I scope out the street from behind the glow of a Blackberry, overheating in my cutoffs and rose colored tank top. I hate New York City in the summer, but this is where I heard They’d be, so here I am.
As a woman in a designer business suit passes by and shoots my clothes a dirty look, my hand moves. It’s barely a flinch and she doesn’t even notice, but I still wait until she’s a good twenty feet away before opening my fist to reveal her Neiman Marcus wallet and deftly slipping it into my overloaded tote bag. I don’t usually pickpocket, but the woman deserves it. I can tell just from that one interaction that she’s a total Scrooge.
I glance back over the street, check the address on the Blackberry screen again to make sure, for the hundredth time, that I have it right, and hope that this time’s the last. My feet itch, hot and uncomfortable in my worn violet high tops, and I resist the urge to shift back and forth at all. I’ll get more looks that way and I need to remain invisible.
Just another teenager on East 49th Street, I tell myself. You’re just another teenager.
Finally, at 3:05 P.M., I spot a movement out of the norm on the corner opposite me. A middle aged man with salt and pepper hair and a Jersey Shore tan, scrupulously dressed down in cargo shorts and a polo, pauses on the corner and pulls an iPhone from his back pocket. He hasn’t seen me so he doesn’t know to turn away as he utters the one word, the command, and I’m just close enough to read his lips and make out what he says.
He means that the Distracters have done Their job and there aren’t any police officers anywhere in a two mile radius. It’s safe to begin the exercise.
Or this part of the exercise, anyway.
They’ve surely been playing games for weeks now. Stealing passwords and sending out fake obituaries. It’s Their favorite part of it all. Messing with people before finally pulling the trigger. Before stating the last command, the death sentence, “Clear.”
The Blackberry says it’s 3:06. I know what comes next and I know what vehicle Their victim is in the instant it enters the block, because it’s the traditional style They go for – sporty and expensive. It’s a red Porsche with an important-looking businessman inside, preoccupied with someone on his Bluetooth. They’ll have to disconnect his phone an instant before the crash or somebody will know what happened right away and They need at least two minutes to get away from the scene of the crime.
Trailing right behind the Porsche, maybe a little too close, is a dingy yellow Jeep that looks out of place within its surroundings. They never use Their own cars for this kind of thing.
I remember the day They came for me, but I try not to think about it. It’s the day that everything changed. They didn’t kill me, but They tried. They might as well have. They took my life anyway – social security number, credit card, driver’s license. The Driver who spared my life told me just enough to get by, to escape, but the following I’ve had to do all on my own.
I want to get back at Them.
I’m here because someone wasn’t there for me. I’ve watched it happen a hundred times as I’ve tracked Them all over the country, slowly turning into one of Them as I go, picking up Their tricks and skills, like the pickpocketing thing. They’ve become the only thing that matters.
The rich guy in the Porsche doesn’t deserve to have this happen to him.
As the Society member across the street begins walking, I begin in the same direction also, copying his pace. I drop the Blackberry in the nearest trashcan and pause when I get to the next corner where a dusty child in ragged clothes calls out for money. I snag the Neiman Marcus wallet from my bag and drop it at her feet. She screeches in amazement, that something so wonderful could be bestowed upon her, and I smile before continuing on, casually stopping once to tie my sneaker and another time to buy a dirty water hotdog, always keeping the Society member in sight. He’s still blissfully unaware of my presence, which I find mildly amusing.
I know where They’re going to stage the accident and I know how They’ll do it. There’s an intersection coming up and I see a twenty-something woman slouched on a bench over an expensive laptop. She’ll have hacked into the sequencing of the traffic lights. The Porsche will be just about to pull through the intersection when the light turns straight to red and the Jeep rams him from behind, pushing him into the oncoming traffic. The man will be so startled he won’t even realize his fate as a second Jeep slams straight into the driver’s side door.
For a split second I wonder who’s pulling the stunt this time. The Board will have set the target, but it’s up to the rest of the Society to squabble over who gets the gun. It’s a competition amongst Them. Who can kill the rich guy and steal his identity first?
“April, shouldn’t you be in school?”
The voice is cool and smooth and although the tone is not unpleasant, it isn’t warm either. Sucking in a breath, I don’t turn to look at the boy behind me because I already know who it is.
“I haven’t gone to school since I was a sophomore, Tristan. You should know that.”
Tristan. Dark brown hair and light brown eyes and a smileless disposition. He’s the youngest member of the Society, at just nineteen. Most of them are college graduates, but he managed to sneak his way in. It’s his older brother’s fault I’m tangled up in this. His dead older brother’s. The Driver who saved me.
“That doesn’t change the fact that you should be there instead of here,” he breathes into my ear. I bite my lip because he knows I hate it when people get close to me.
“You’re one to talk about should and shouldn’ts. Isn’t stealing morally wrong?”
He laughs once, the sound short and sharp, and I turn, stepping away from him. His face is drawn – so much worry for someone so young, but I’m sure I’m not a very pleasant sight either.
“Morals don’t count anymore, April. You know that.”
“I wish I didn’t.”
Together we watch the accident happen, and I don’t move because I know Tristan has a syringe of anesthetic in his hand, just waiting for me to take a step toward the curb. I don’t feel a thing. My body’s numb. Ice. My brain is frozen, and my thoughts are foggy, and I can’t bear to watch but I can’t look away.
There are screams and horrified expressions and two minutes later the sirens start up in the distance, but They’re already gone.
Failed. Again. All because of Tristan.
I asked him once if They assigned him to the duty of keeping me away, because he’s always the one who does it, always the one who carries the shot. He said no.
It’s onto the next stop after this, as Tristan and I turn and go in opposite directions, acting the part of perfect strangers. We should be. He may have asked for this, but I didn’t.
He drops the unused syringe in the trash.
I hope the next target is at least somewhere cooler. The sweat’s dripping into my eyes and making my vision blur. I know it’s sweat because it can’t be tears – I stopped crying months ago.
And all I can keep thinking as I walk, averting my eyes from the scene of the crime as emergency workers rush about, too late, is the fact that there’s a scar on my left leg, and even though They stole my identity – my whole life – They don’t know about it. Which means that at least some part of the old me is still mine. Which means that They didn’t win.
PS. If you’re as big of a fan of Veronica Roth’s Divergent as I am and happen to live in the state of Illinois (lucky, lucky you if you do!), then make sure to check out the Facebook page for the agency casting extras for the film adaption: https://www.facebook.com/DivergentExtrasCasting
I seriously wanted to be in this movie (I think my faction pictures can prove that), but because I’m an out-of-stater, I can’t. SO GO BE AN EXTRA IN MY PLACE, PLEASE! 🙂
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a short story I wrote a while back that was technically for a Figment contest, but mainly came into being because I was really bored at the time–note that this means I wasn’t really trying with the story, so the writing’s pretty weak and didn’t get a whole lot of editing or anything, so… I have to apologize in advance for how rough it is. But I don’t think it’s too bad, so it’s getting included on the blog anyway. Huzzah!
The boy found her looking up at the stars, her brown eyes large and staring, and her thin, pink lips turned up at the corners. The breeze sifted through her blond, blond hair, and all he could think was that she looked like an angel.
The boy did not mean to draw attention to himself; he did not mean to let the girl know he had seen her at all. But as he went to take a step backward, his sneaker met with a rather slippery maple leaf, and the next thing he knew he was flat on his back, staring up at the girl with her brown, staring eyes and angel hair.
“What are you doing?” she asked, her voice a timid squeak. From the way she held her pale, trembling arms to her sides, the boy could tell she was afraid. She twisted her navy blue jumper between her fingers, it looking like a layer of the night sky beneath her hands, and she chewed on her lower lip. The muscles in her face twitched, like she wasn’t sure whether she should frown or say something more.
The boy couldn’t think of a decent answer, so instead he blurted, “What were you looking up at?”
His voice was rusty with nerves and disuse, and it was strange to hear himself speak. He hadn’t felt much need for it lately.
The girl took a halting step away, looking down her thin, upturned nose at him. She squinted her eyes into slits, her barely there eyebrows scrunching down on top of them, and dug her hands more firmly into the fabric of her jumper. The boy hesitantly sat up, so that he could see her more clearly, and she took another step away, this time with a startled little gasp, like she was afraid he would bite.
She reminded him of the baby deer in his backyard—Mama always used to tell him not to get too close, or they’d skitter off, and he was afraid the girl would try to run and would fall like him, with all the slippery wet maple leaves coating the grass like a second layer of skin.
There was a moment when the boy thought the girl wouldn’t answer; that she would leave, and the sudden fear of being alone caused a churning in his gut. But then she took a deep breath and lifted her eyes away from him, to the safer view of the sky, and she said, “I was looking at the moon.”
“What’s your name?” the boy asked. He hadn’t meant to ask, but the question slipped out anyway.
She didn’t look at him as she responded in her high, scared voice, “Elizabeth.” She paused before adding a polite, “And yours?”
The boy smiled so big his teeth showed, slowly drawing himself to his feet and looking up at the sky as well; he realized it was easier to be around the girl when he couldn’t see her. Her fear seemed so much smaller when he was looking at the moon, so big and bright like a lump of cottage cheese.
“My name is Phillip,” he said.
“Phillip,” she tasted it on her tongue. “What are you doing in the cemetery, Phillip?”
“Visiting my mama.” His tone was even and his response immediate, but he knew when she glanced over at him she could see the way his face had crumpled up like a paper bag, all too visible in the starlight.
He was embarrassed; scared she’d dislike him for his answer. But then she said, “Me too.”
The boy swore his lungs were caving in as he chased the girl down the path, her white-golden hair streaming out behind her in its piggy tail braids and catching in the light of the moon. It glittered like stars.
“Hold up, Elizabeth!” he called, pumped his arms against his sides. He stumbled against a dip in the path, and almost went spilling onto a crumbling headstone to his right, before the fear of touching something dead and vile got him careening back onto the hard packed walkway.
“What?” the girl cried out from nearly twenty feet ahead of him. “Just so you can catch me?” Her voice was bossy and cynical as usual, and only slightly full of breath from the game. He didn’t understand how she still could keep running, after they’d been back and forth around the cemetery at least a dozen times that night.
“I’ve been running for an hour now!” he said in desperation. His legs had long stopped burning from the exercise, but now his nose and throat and chest had taken up the task. The world swayed around him, a dizzying array of muted colors in the night.
“And you’re going to have to do better than that to catch me, Phillip Logan!” the girl’s laugh carried back to him. The wind rustled through the maple branches above him, then, and the boy looked up just as a shower of dew fell down on him.
“Aw, now I’m all wet!” he grumbled, finally stopping his legs and plopping down in the dirt. After a moment, he heard the slap, slap, slap of the girl’s bare feet as she rounded the corner and came back for him.
“Why’d you stop running, Phillip?” she asked, sitting down and arranging her hands primly in her lap.
“The tree peed on me,” he said, holding out the soaked sleeve of his shirt for her to see.
“And that’s any reason to stop running?” The girl stuck out her tongue.
As if in answer, the wind gave another gust at that moment, and more dew rained down on them. The girl laughed, spreading her arms wide, falling back against the path and letting the water cover her. It glistened on her hair, her dress, her skin.
“Aren’t you scared what your father might do when he sees you all wet?” the boy asked. His eyes were wide, and he tried to shake some of the dampness from his clothes.
“Naw, Daddy doesn’t even know I’m out here,” the girl said, a big, pearly smile still spread across her face. He tweaked his head at her.
“Well, my father doesn’t know I’m out here either, but he’ll still ring me out if he sees my clothes all wet in the morning.”
There was a lull in the conversation as another burst of air raked across the trees. An emerald green leaf came free, floating and swirling down on the breeze between them.
“My daddy doesn’t care all that much,” the girl said quietly. “Not since he took up with Meredith.”
The way she said the name, it was like there was a toad down her throat—so dejected. The boy hated how sad and lonely the girl got when she mentioned Meredith, so even though his lungs still felt like fire ants were crawling up and down them, he reached out a hand and tapped her on the shoulder, shouting for all the cemetery and stars and trees to hear, “Tag, you’re it!”
He sprang to his feet and sprinted off the way he’d come from before, back toward the side of the graveyard that was away from his mama and closer to hers, with a feeling like a rubber band stretching from his gut all the way back to Mama’s, pulling tighter and tighter; the harder it was for him, the easier it was for her.
“You cheater!” the girl cried out, jumping up and racing after him. “I’m gonna catch you, Phillip!”
He just pumped his legs harder; running away, and away, and away, so that she could run towards.
The boy hadn’t seen the girl in a while—not since she moved with her father and Meredith to the city. In fact, he’d nearly managed to forget about her coffee bean eyes and lion’s mane hair when her letter arrived in the mail, saying she’d be back in town to visit.
He walked along the twisting dirt pathway to the maple tree they always used to meet under, and he found her sitting in the grass with her long blond hair undone and lying in curls down her back. She sat with one skinny shoulder pushed up against the tree and a tan woolen blanket wrapped around herself, her face turned up at the moon.
He greeted her with an obnoxious, “Boo!,” and she turned so fast her own hair whipped her across the face.
“Phillip!” she screamed, scrambling to her feet and pulling his lanky form into an embrace. “You scared me nearly to death, you loser!”
He held on for as long as he felt he was allowed to before pulling away so he could get a better look at her, soaking in her familiar upturned nose, and small ears, and crinkled forehead, along with the unfamiliar dark streaks of crayon around her eyes, and the bright red blooming across her lips. A grin found its way onto his face, and he wouldn’t have been able to swallow it down if he’d tried.
“Who else did you expect to see at 10 o’clock at night around here?” he said, and she stepped back, rolling her eyes and giving him a wan smile. She pulled her blanket more firmly around her shoulders and nodded at the pathway back the way he had just come, beginning to walk. He couldn’t take his eyes off the texture of her curls and the sway of her hips, and it took him a moment longer than it once did to fall into step beside her.
“What have you been up to these past few years, Elizabeth?” he asked. His hands were hot and itching to touch her, so he stuffed them in the pockets of his jacket instead.
“You can call me Lizzy,” she said. “That’s what all the guys at school call me, now.”
He smiled at her as he replied, “I think Elizabeth suits you better.”
“Well, I prefer Lizzy.”
There was silence, not quite comfortable or uncomfortable one way or the other, and then the boy stopped and said, “That’s the gate. Aren’t you going to turn around?” He watched her as she unlatched the brass lock and took a step out into the parking lot.
“No, let’s go do something fun,” she said, looking out beyond him.
“Like what?” He cocked his head to one side, confused. “We just got here.”
Ignoring the second thing he’d said, she responded, “We should go dancing, or something.”
“There’s no dancing here, Elizabeth.” He felt like he was talking to a five year old, and it was odd; it was the first time he’d had to tell the girl something like that. “You know that,” he continued. “The most fun we have is the bowling alley.”
Finally letting her eyes drift back from the sky to rest on his face, she curled her fingers around the gate and leaned toward him, letting the gate swing back shut, drawing her nearer. “Would you stop calling me, Elizabeth?” she said. “I’m serious. I don’t go by that name anymore.”
“But you’ve always been Elizabeth,” he said, taking a step towards the gate. “You can’t just change your name, or you’d have to change your entire person. You’re just as much Elizabeth now, tonight, as you always have been.”
“Oh really?” she asked, opening the gate again. This time she stepped back into the cemetery, back towards him. She dropped her blanket on one of the crumbling graves just off the path without care to who she’d covered up with it, and ran one of her perfectly manufactured curls between her fingers. Her voice was wry and her movements sure as she said, “Would a girl named Elizabeth do this to a boy she hadn’t seen in years, Phillip?”
And she looped her papery white arms around his neck as he took a stumbling step back, startled. And she kissed him full on the lips for all the night sky to see.
The boy found her looking up at the stars, her pale eyes squinted and staring, and her thin, red lips turned down at the corners. The breeze raked through her pale, brittle hair, and all he could think was that she looked like an angel. Like she was already gone. Like she had been gone for years.
The boy did not mean to draw attention to himself; he did not mean to let the girl know he had seen her at all. But he could not stop himself from blurting, “Are you all right, Lizzy?”
She spun on him, her shoulder blades protruding from her back so they showed like wings.
“What are you doing?” she asked, her voice a timid squeak.
He didn’t say a word; just sat down beside her.
“I want to be alone, Phillip,” she said. She refused to meet his eyes, instead looking down at the ground. She picked at the grass with her spider-leg fingers, pulling apart the rough green blades and then holding up the scraps for the wind to carry away.
“Then why are you in the place you always come to with me?” the boy asked. He watched her hands as they fumbled against the grass. He could see her veins through her skin, nearly glowing. He should have known the city would destroy her—picking off the letters of her name like a vulture, until Elizabeth was just Lizzy. He should have known he’d find her here again someday.
“We haven’t been here together in years,” the girl said.
“And you haven’t been here at all.” He reached out his hand to draw her nearer, but then thought better of it and let his dry, calloused palm fall back against his side. She seemed so fragile—broken by the glare of the lights and the roar of the cars. At peace only when she was alone in the dark. “I come walking here every night, Lizzy. I would know if you’d come back.”
“Don’t call me Lizzy, please,” she whispered to her lap. “I prefer Elizabeth.”
The way her voice sounded—so brittle—was not the Elizabeth he’d known in the night as a child. But perhaps she was still in there somewhere, hidden under all the scar tissue.
The boy couldn’t help himself, then, as he said, “I have always been whatever you’ve needed, Elizabeth. Right?”
“Right,” she replied, although they both knew that he had never been able to run fast enough to catch her; to tag her and pull her back to safety. That if he had been able to, perhaps he could have pulled her away back home to the cemetery before the addiction took root, eating up her insides and shredding her apart, until all that was left was this shell. Before Meredith made her move, and before the city claimed her heart.
“Do you love me?” he asked.
They both looked away, up, anywhere they couldn’t see the sadness on the other’s face, because they both already knew the answer. The moon was like cottage cheese and the stars were speckles of gold, the rest of the sky so black, black, black they got lost in it.
“No,” replied the girl in her fragile angel voice, her brown eyes reflecting the starlight and her hair shifting with the breeze. Maple leaves rained down with each gust like the tree was shedding tears.
There was silence before she added, “But I love the moon.”
“What are you doing in the cemetery?” the boy asked. He pulled her towards him now that the answer was floating free in the air, and she rest her head on his shoulder; as light as a dove.
She said, “Visiting my mother. You?”
He smiled, so barely there it looked almost like a grimace, nearly a frown, as he replied, “Falling in love with the moon.” And he felt the girl’s heart beat-beat-beating against his chest in the dark.
PS. Fun fact: This is my 123 post. That is just such a cool number, I had to share it.
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is another piece that I wrote towards the end of my junior year of high school. It was for the Enemy Contest on Figment, which I had the humungous honor of winning. Later on, I also used it as part of my senior writing portfolio for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, which received an honorable mention. (Basically, I have a thousand and one reasons to love this short story.)
I didn’t always know Will Orson. In fact, we didn’t even meet until the fifth grade, and even then we were only classmates, not friends. But it felt natural, like we had always been close, always been that close, when, without a word, he slid into the booth beside me at lunch that day in the middle of February of freshman year.
Sarah and Kimberly, on the other side of the booth, stared at him. Will Orson wasn’t popular—I won’t go as far as to say that—but he definitely was not of our social type. There was a reason we were the only three at our table.
“Um, hi?” Sarah squinted at him through her mile-thick glasses.
“Hey.” Will smiled easily at her. “Do you like tuna fish?” He dropped a brown paper bag on the table in front of him and took out a sandwich.
I scrunched up my nose and, without thinking, said, “How’s this. I buy you a slice of pizza and you take that thing as far away from here as humanly possible.”
And, just like that, Will Orson became my best friend.
It’s funny to think about that now, how companionship came so easily between us, as I stare at him through the holes in my masquerade mask, eyes wide and hands raised as far as they will go in a gesture of defeat. The frown on his face, reaching all the way to his forehead, where his skin puckers into solid creases of wear and anger, seems so unlike him. I know he doesn’t recognize me. If he did, he would put the gun down.
I didn’t know it would be him, or I never would have accepted this assignment. Ms. Bradson said it was an easy counterintelligence mission. All I had to do was attend the Lincoln Masquerade Ball and make sure nobody took a shot at any of our delegates. She could’ve sent me to scout out the jewel heist in Alaska instead, so I should be thankful. At least this way I got to stay in the city and I didn’t have to miss any school.
My mind continues to whirl as Will and I stare at each other, unblinking. If only his mask hadn’t slipped off during the tango, I never would have realized it was him.
He still doesn’t know it’s me.
My face is hidden behind a cardboard mask and I have a chocolate brown wig on. It’s the same color as his hair. I remember thinking about that when I picked the wig out this afternoon, because I love Will’s hair. It’s probably his best feature. Either that or his eyes.
I still can’t believe I missed it before now. That Will Orson works for Cambridge. I should’ve known. And he should’ve known that I was with the government.
Taking a threatening step towards me, he switches the safety off on his gun.
I don’t know what makes me say it, but I do, and he stops. His eyes widen and his mouth drops. I can hear the party continuing, just on the other side of the ballroom door, and it’s so strange to think that it all might be over in a second. The moment they hear the gunshot, the secret service will surely escort everyone to safety. But it’ll be too late for me.
“How do you know my name? Who’s your source?”
I don’t respond right away, biting my lip instead to keep back the tears. Suddenly that jewel heist assignment is looking better and better.
With a yell, he crosses the space between us and puts his hand to my throat. I feel the air leave my lungs and I struggle for breath. Red hot needles of pain shoot across my neck as his nails dig deeper into my skin. My hands drop to my sides. I can feel my pulse beating haphazardly and after a moment spots appear before my eyes.
I never knew Will was capable of doing things like this. Of having rage, and power, and being dangerous. He was the cute boy on the soccer team. He was the closet geek who chose me, out of everyone at Ridgeview High, to sit with at lunch that day in February. He was my best friend.
“Will…” I struggle to say again. I don’t fight back. Every nerve in my body tells me to, to kick out or punch him in the face or something, but I refuse to. He’s bigger, stronger than I am. And I could never hurt him, even if it means sacrificing myself in the process.
“Tell me your source!”
“Will, please…” I finally can’t help it, and reach up, trying to pry his fingers from my throat. “You’re Will Orson. You’re a senior at Ridgeview High School in upper Manhattan and you’re the captain of the varsity soccer team.”
Instead of his grip loosening like I hope it will, he tightens his hold on my throat and my larynx feels like it’s going to explode.
I can barely see or feel anything, there’s so little oxygen in my body, but I notice that he’s no longer angry. Instead, he’s scared.
“How much do you know about me?” His voice shakes.
“Please, Will…” I try to say, but I can’t get out any sound. I mouth the words, “Charlotte Tyler,” and his hold tightens even further. I can hear choking sounds escaping from my mouth, but I’m not aware of making them.
“You know about Charlotte?! Don’t you dare hurt her!” he screeches, moving so that his face is inches from mine.
My mind is growing fuzzy, but I still manage to form one last sentence, “Why do you work for Cambridge?”
“Why?” he laughs. “So I don’t have to put up with creeps like you.”
It’s at that point that, with my last ounce of energy, I reach up and, against my better judgment, pull off the mask. He doesn’t recognize me for a second, in the lowlight of the hallway and with my wig still on, but then his hand disappears from my throat and he stumbles backwards in one solid movement.
“No…” he whispers, and then yells it, “No!”
I’m choking. Gagging. On my knees, trying desperately to swallow down air. The music stops on the other side of the door. They’ve heard us. They know, finally, that something is going on.
“Charlotte, why? Why do you work for the government?” he stutters out. Repeating back my question, only changed. Different, somehow.
“I thought it was to save people like you,” I manage. “But I guess I was wrong.”
All I can think about is that day in the cafeteria. The way he smiled at me. He doesn’t look like the Will Orson I know, now. He looks scared; like a rabid dog.
“It’s corrupt!” he shouts.
“Funny to hear that coming from a terrorist.”
“Charlotte.” For a second, he looks like maybe he’ll kiss me, but instead he picks up the gun from where he dropped it, hands shaking, and takes aim.
I didn’t always know Will Orson. Maybe I never really knew him at all.
PS. I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep at all for the next week and a half, between last minute projects and studying for my finals. Somebody please save me.
Today was my last day of school before summer vacation, which means that, yeah, I just finished my high school career — sat in my last classes, took my last exams, waved to my friends in the hallway for the last time.
It’s surreal. It’s bittersweet. I’ve been really nostalgic and sad about it for the past year or two (I’m not even kidding).
But then I also basically look like this right now:
(You tell ’em how it is, Puck!!!)
In other news, here’s your Wordy Wednesday for this week. 😛 This is a short story I wrote around this time last year for the Dystopia Contest with Lauren Oliver on Figment. It was the first contest I ever entered on there, and I was extremely honored to be awarded as runner-up/second place (despite the fact that I later realized this is basically exactly like Lauren Oliver’s own novel Delirium, which I didn’t read until after the contest — go figure).
“Tara.” Ryan comes up right behind me, taking my hand in his. With the other, he sweeps my too long bangs out of my face and back behind my ear. His rough skin leaves a series of tingles behind and I look down at our intertwined fingers, mashing my lips together.
“It’s too dangerous,” I whisper.
“Don’t say that.”
“It’s the truth.” I shrug away from his touch and turn so that we’re face to face. “What if we get caught? You don’t even know for sure if They exist.”
“They do.” He takes a step towards me, but again I step back.
“Please, you can’t go –” I break off as my eyes reach his.
“Stop pretending like you have any choice in the matter.”
At first I think he’s joking, and I crack a smile, but his caramel brown eyes remain stony and I feel my muscles tense, my features melt back into a frown.
“I’m going whether you want me to or not. If you’re too scared to come along, you don’t have to, but I’m going to find Them, and then we’ll come back for you.” He takes several steps forward so that he’s so close I can feel his breath on my cheek, and he cups my chin in his hands. “I love you, Tara.”
There they are. The four words that started it all.
It had been an accident the first time, I’m sure. A test of authority. A brush of lips on pink cheek, faint in the twilight the academy building cast during lunch, his voice a whisper, “I love you, Tara.”
Ryan hated it then, hates it now. All of it. The rules – inside before sunset, silent before 10:00 PM – and the checks – breathalyzers at the door, do you look too happy? Quick, check your blood, run a scan, what are you hiding?
We are human, our very existence our demise. We live to crave touch, affection, longing, and this is our problem. Love distracts us. At times like these, when the entire world infrastructure is on the brink of collapse, we need to focus on furthering our knowledge, being innovative above the other cultures as they try desperately to be innovative above ours… not love.
There’s a purpose behind the documents and rulebooks, regulations and regulators, but Ryan has never seen it.
When we were twelve, he pulled me back behind the gym and pressed his lips, wet with mist, to my cheek.
“What did you just do?” I had asked, touching my skin, surprised by the warmth.
“I love you, Tara,” he said simply.
If he had been anyone else, I would have reported him to a teacher and they would have sent him to a reform academy – it sounds crazy, but societies need order, and order doesn’t come from letting people off the hook just because they don’t, can’t see the bigger picture – but Ryan and I were friends, best friends, and I couldn’t do that to him.
After that, there were more and more infractions; kisses, crooked smiles, long talks into the night as we lie under a canopy of treetops where no one could see us, while on the streets just on the other side of the woods regulators searched for delinquents.
To love is to commit a crime, and somehow we have become criminals.
There was a way out, Ryan said. They, the Resistance, living in the northern part of the country, the part that the government abandoned after stripping it of its resources – we could sneak out, join Them.
“We can go there and be safe. We won’t have to hide anymore,” Ryan whispers, now.
“You know I can’t go,” I say, my voice a sigh, a quiver. I rest my head against the hollow between his collarbone and throat and feel the beat, rhythm, pulse, that marks him alive, warm and constant.
He’ll come back for me, he promises again before leaving, disappearing into the tree trunks and foliage. I bite my lip, try not to cry.
I turn back toward the road, toward home, when suddenly an arm wraps around my waist and spins me to face its master. Ryan presses his lips to mine, pulls our bodies together so that his hands are in my hair and mine are looped around his neck; one last kiss that fades far too quickly.
“I love you, Ryan,” I whisper into his shirt.
“Don’t forget that,” he replies. “Whatever you do, don’t forget love.”
This past Sunday was the annual awards gala for my theatre company. This is always a really big ordeal — all the girls wear their prom dresses and the guys wear their tuxes, and everyone walks around eating fancy desserts and stuff — but this year was particularly big for me since it was my last gala. And, as a senior and one of the leaders of the company, I was up for two really big awards.
I was completely blown away when I actually won both of them.
I got a fairly hefty scholarship from our drama boosters to spend on college stuff, aaand… wait for it… I WON THE OUTSTANDING THESPIAN AWARD!!!!!!!!! That is LITERALLY the highest honor the theatre company offers, and it means that my name’s going to be on a plaque in our lobby with all the other Outstanding Thespian Award winners from the past however-many-years we’ve been doing this award (along with the other two people who won it this year, too — who, by the way, it is A HUMUNGOUS HONOR to share the 2012 slot with! 🙂 ), and it’s just… incredible. I started crying. I never thought in a million years I’d get it, because there were a lot of other awesome and dedicated and talented people in my class, and they’re all a lot funnier, or more outgoing, or whatever-it-may-be than me. I’m just kind of there all the time, I’m not the kind of person who you really notice. Or who’s even really particularly likeable. And the Outstanding Thespian Award is based completely on the votes of the company, so it’s usually the really popular, I-am-the-face-of-the-company kids who get it.
And yeah. It was just incredible. IN. CRE. DI. BLE.
Hey, I just wanted to let you guys know that I haven’t gone into a Christmas cookie comatose or anything (though I’m close), because I haven’t posted anything in a few days — In general, this blog is going to be biweekly, with a Wordy Wednesday every (you guessed it!) Wednesday and just a general update-you-on-my-obviously-so-interesting life kind of post every weekend. Every so often, I might do some extra things, but in general that’s how this is going to be. 🙂
In other news, I got some really awesome gifts for Christmas, including a bunch of Glee stuff (it’s my guilty pleasure) and clothes, but also a FOREVER LAZY (which is basically just glorified footie pajamas, minus the feet portion, with socks and a hood and a zipper in the back so you don’t even have to take it off to go to the bathroom) (yes, with all of our modern technology, this was the best we could come up with. Aren’t you proud of society?).
Oh, and I’m sure my mom looked just like this when getting it for me. I’m so positive.
Back a couple months ago, Jennifer did some publicity work with Figment, and I was lucky enough to be one of the people affected by it, meaning that I got a free ARC of the book because one of my stories had similar content to hers and got featured on the website homepage. (Read my story here.)
(ARC picture from Jennifer’s blog.)
The Beginning of After tells the story of Laurel Meisner, a girl who’s pretty much perfectly normal in every way until one night when her neighbor decides to take her parents and younger brother out for dessert after dinner, and they get in a car accident. They never come back. The neighbor’s in a coma, and his wife, Laurel’s parents, and her admittedly sweet younger brother Toby are all dead. Gone. Forever.
This all happens in the first few pages, and then the entire rest of the 425 page book details Laurel’s life after the accident.
As someone who’s experienced grief firsthand — albeit not nearly as horrible as Laurel’s — this story felt especially poignant to me, and I found myself tearing up several times throughout. If you’re quick to reach for the tissue box, you’ll definitely need it while and after reading this one. It touches on all those different questions we’d rather never have to ask: What happens when we’re gone? What happens when our family’s gone, and we’re the only ones left? What happens, what happens, what happens?
I don’t want to give away much of the plot, because the content of The Beginning of After is every bit as interesting as the title, but I do want to say that where a lot of books about teenagers and grief fall flat, this one rings true. Of course there are those moments when it feels a bit fake, a bit forced, but maybe that’s just because that’s how Laurel’s feeling then — she feels fake. She feels forced.
She feels numb.
This book isn’t about death, but rather what happens to those who are left behind in the aftermath. It’s not about grieving, but rather its effects on who we are and who we become because of it.
It’s a story that feels so real, you’ll want to mourn the loss of Laurel’s family right along with her, just because it reminds you how fragile life truly is, and how easily you could lose everything you cherish also.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I give it an 8.
And now, back onto the happy-cheery-Christmas topic for another couple seconds. 😉 This is basically how my dog Sammy’s Christmas went:
Got toy. Liked toy. Chewed on toy.
Toy made squeak sound. TOY MUST BE ALIVE!! Must rip toy open and kill it!!!!
Toy is open. Toy’s stuffing and squeaker are all over the floor. Toy is dead.
Victoriously carry dead toy around for all to see.
It was adorable and frightening at the same time.
So what were some of the things you all got for Christmas? Any funny stories about your friends and families?