Wordy Wednesday (“The End Where I Begin, Chapter Five”)

I’M DOOONE. I’M DONE, I’M DONE, I’M DONE.

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Yesterday I had all of my last classes, took my one and only exam, and turned in my last two term papers–which means that fall semester 2013 is OVER for me! Including Spanish. It was bittersweet leaving the classroom yesterday, as all of us who have been stuck in Spanish for a thousand hours a week together for the past year and a half realized that it was over. The torture’s ended. We’re done. But it was also pretty fantastico, porque no puedo hacer más Español ahora. Es demasiado dificil para mí.

I don’t know what my grades will be like for this semester yet, but I’m pretty sure I at least passed all my classes (distribution requirements are hard, dude), and my creative writing prof has promised me an A, so that’s always good.

I registered for my winter semester classes a couple days ago, and unfortunately a couple of the ones I wanted were already full, so I am now on the wait list for one of those and hoping to take the other one sometime next year instead. In the meantime, because of not being able to get into that class, I’m now starting my literature classes this coming semester instead of over the summer or next fall like I’d planned. And the lit class I chose fulfills the hardest requirement for my major, so it’s not going to exactly be a fun one. Aaand it also happens to be a 400 level, and I have never taken a 400 level ANYTHING before, so please wish me luck, because I am terrified. (My goal remains to get all of the crappy classes out of the way now so I can take the ones I want to later, which means putting myself through torture all this year. But oh well.)

Anyway. This week’s Wordy Wednesday is Chapter Five of my NaNo this year, The End Where I Begin.

As always, a reminder that this has seen little to no editing and I’m still in the process of writing the novel, so there will be mistakes and inconsistencies and all that fun stuff throughout.

Read previous chapters:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

**********

Chapter Five

I push myself into a sitting position so quickly the person hovering over me doesn’t have a chance to get out of the way, and my forehead smacks against his.

“Goodness, Alexa. Might want to warn someone before you do that.” Calvin rubs his temples and rocks back on his heels. He turns his head towards the doorway. “Dad, she’s awake!”

I look beyond him. I’m in my room. Scrubbed white walls and lilac curtains with a scuffed pine floor that leaves splinters in bare feet. My sheets cling to my bare arms, stuck with dried sweat. The lamp on my dresser reflects off the dark window—it must be night.

It’s difficult to move my jaw. I brush two fingers over it and wince as pain blossoms across the right side of my face. “Calvin?” The word is harsh against my sandpaper throat. “What time is it?”

“Just after twenty one hundred.” He leans against the open door and crosses his arms. The light turns his dark brown hair black.

“My jaw took a hit.” The swelling in my jaw slurs my words, makes them painful. I keep going anyway. “I should have only been out for a few minutes, not the better part of the day.”

Calvin offers a sympathetic smile. “After Ramsey knocked you out, she ran. They had us give you sedatives so you’d stay out until they’d caught her—wanted to minimalize the emotional trauma for you. The Clinic is holding her in a detention facility now until they can figure out why she attacked you, and why then.”

I laugh. The sound is like a bark. “I know why she attacked me. Ask anyone at New Capital High and they can tell you why she attacked me. The Ram is insane and hates me for breaking off our friendship.”

The words burn my tongue. I normally only call Ramsey “the Ram” around other students, because that’s the nickname everyone at NCH has called her since Ramsey got into her first spat with Amelia, back when Amelia’s family had first moved to North America year nine in order for her mom to act as the European representative at the Clinic, which is based here in New Capital.

But Calvin graduated before then—he’s a senior at the university now—so he still calls Ramsey by her real name.

He furrows his brow as he absorbs my words. “You realize Ramsey used to be your friend, Alexa. One of your only friends.”

“Yes.” I level my eyes at him. “Back before she went bonkers.”

My stomach twists, but I ignore it. Ramsey deserves what she gets, and it’s good she’s in a detention facility. She used to be calm and nice and, sure, a bit of a sarcastic twit sometimes, especially during our doubles tennis matches. But she had never hurt a soul before our argument four months ago, the day I left her behind to befriend Amelia. And now she attacks anyone who comes in her path.

The Ramsey who exists now is not the same Ramsey as the one who used to be my best friend. The Ramsey who exists now deserves whatever the Clinic does to her for hitting me during the Recruitment Assembly.

Head spinning, I fall back against my pillow. Calvin eyes me with dissipating distain.

I ask, “What all occurred after Ramsey knocked me out?”

“Don’t worry, you didn’t miss much drama.” He shrugs. “The recruiting officers from the Clinic want to talk to you, though. What’s that about?”

“I’m not even sure.” I rub the back of my hand over my eyes. When I open them, it’s to the sight of my Identiband flickering again to the non-color—still lit up, but a bizarre shade it should not be. I stare at it. “The Clinic offered to recruit me, which was strange since I’m only year eleven, you know? I should have another year still before that’s even an option.”

I turn the Identiband around my wrist and it flashes the other color for just a second longer. It reminds me of apples for some reason. “Plus, why would they pick me? It’s not like I’m a science nerd. I do all right in my classes. I play tennis and run cross country. That’s it.”

I let my arm drop back to rest on my bed and bite my lip. I look at Calvin. “I was confused, and I meant to say no—I don’t want to work for them—but yes slipped out instead. What do you think they’ll do? Can I back out?”

“I don’t know.” Calvin glances out the door, then back to me. “I think you’ll have to explain the situation to them and see. Generally, when people say yes, they mean it.”

“How’s my Alexa?” Dad’s deep voice booms from the hallway. His footsteps squeak against the old hardwood as he nears.

Calvin rolls his eyes and calls back, “As petulant as ever. Did you hear she’s messing with the Clinic now as well?”

“Playing with the big guns, are we, little girl?” Dad sweeps past Calvin to kiss my forehead. The whiskers above his upper lip tickle as he whispers a blessing into my skin, and I giggle, batting him away.

Daddy.”

He grins and sits down on the edge of the bed. My father is tall and stocky, with skin much darker than mine, even darker than Calvin’s, and very little hair left on top of his head. “So you think you’re ready to play with the big guns?” He raises a bushy eyebrow.

I glare. “They made me. What do you think? Will they let me back out after saying yes? I don’t actually want to work for them. I don’t know what came over me. I was so nervous.”

My father sweeps my frizzy, sweated-out bangs off my forehead and smiles down at me. “I’m sure they will, little girl. Now, are you hungry? Would you like me to bring something up to you?”

“No, that’s okay.” I sit up and swing my legs over the side of the bed. The skirt of Sierra’s dress is bunched around my waist. Cheeks warming, I pull it down and stand. “I think I can get food on my own. You get back to work.”

Dad is an architect. He’s helping develop a new branch of our subdivision right now. Sometimes I wish Mom could see how successful he’s become—while our current house is certainly in need of renovations, it’s on a good street. Amelia’s family lives just around the block. Our old house, the one near both Ramsey and Eric, was in the area known as Portsmouth. Half the buildings were overcrowded, the other half abandoned. On the walk home from New Capital Elementary, our shoes crunched over broken glass and we picked dandelions from between the shards of concrete—all that was left of the roads.

Dad worked hard to bring us to the Riverhorn subdivision after Mom passed.

I tiptoe with my bare feet across the splintery floor and slip on my school shoes, which someone has left by the door.

Calvin smiles as I pass. “Want me to make you pancakes, just like old times?”

I smile, am about to reply that he’s only offering because he wants pancakes himself, when my Identiband beeps. I have an incoming message.

I expect it to be Amelia, ready to arm me with all the latest news about how the Recruitment Assembly ended. Or Eric, making sure I’m okay.

I click the button on the side of the bracelet and it projects the message in the air above my wrist, angled perfectly for me to be able to read it and no one else—a feature just added to the Identibands this generation. It is not one of my friends.

TO: Alexa Dylan, year eleven

FROM: Macy Pen, Secretary of Recruitment Affairs—the Clinic, New Capital division

MESSAGE: Miss Dylan, we must speak with you about what transpired at the New Capital High Recruitment Assembly today. Come to the Clinic tomorrow at 0800, office suite 4581. Thank you for your cooperation.

As I reread the message, my Identiband flickers again, and for half an instant, before I remember that the assumption is not right, I think it is the color of blood.

**********

69

~Julia

Aún

I am currently writing my last Spanish paper ever. Spanish classes have been the bane of my existence on and off for so long now that I feel like it’s impossible that I’m only two and a half pages of a term paper away from never having to take a Spanish class again.

I started Spanish lessons in elementary school. It was just a club that met after school one day a week, in which we learned colors and numbers and the names for la familia, but it was my introduction to the idea that English isn’t the only way to communicate; that something more than us existed. I avoided foreign language classes in middle school, and only took the requisite two years of Spanish in high school.

I then had two years off–two years during which, much like now, I thought I was done. Even when I spent two weeks in Costa Rica for a mission trip the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, I let other people do the Spanish speaking for me. Not because Spanish isn’t a wonderful language, but because speaking it to someone who was fluent, when I barely knew my way through present tense verb conjugations, was terrifying. So I avoided it, because I am the type of person who easily falls into the trap of avoiding things that scare me.

Then I had to look into colleges, and discovered that the only way for me to get a creative writing major was by becoming nearly fluent in a foreign language (because yeah, that makes sense). So fall semester of freshman year, Spanish classes began again.

I’ve been griping about vocab lists and reading assignments and ensayos and tests for a year and a half now. That’s almost as long as I’ve had this blog. Once I turn in this final Spanish essay (and mi profesora decides I didn’t fail, of course), I’ll have completed twenty credit hours of Spanish over the course of three semesters.

I’m so close to being done.

In two and a half pages (and one, hour and a half-long class during which I will probably have to speak only once) I will be done. And if everything else goes as planned, I’ll also finish the entirety of my distribution requirements by the end of next summer, at which point my classes will turn into things I actually want to take: literature and creative writing and film.

And that is terrifying.

I hadn’t realized it would scare me, until now, finally getting to do what I want to do. But it does bring with it a certain amount of “growing up”; I have to leave my dreams of these things behind for their probably much-less-magical reality.

It’s one thing to take the classes everyone needs to in college. It’s another to walk into a classroom knowing that it is your choice to be there and that you had better enjoy it and do well in it, because it’s for your major and future. Right now, I love writing and reading and analyzing things. But what happens when I have to start doing it for a grade? What happens when it stops being the hobby I like to do after class, and becomes what I’m doing in class?

I don’t know. I don’t know, and I’ve already run into the problem of my stress reliever becoming what’s stressing me this semester, due to my creative writing class. Because by going into creative writing–by making this my career, and by making a career something that I need in order to survive rather than something I’m striving for simply because I want to–to an extent, I am taking it away from myself. Something that I have always done because I want to do it is becoming something that I’m doing because I have to, no choice in the matter.

But that’s okay, because that’s also a lie. I do have a choice. And I am choosing this.

I am scared, but I am doing it anyway.

Everyone should be lucky enough to do what they love for a living. And maybe right now I’m scared, and I am naturally the sort of person who’s more likely to flee than fight. But if something really matters, if something is irrevocably and irreplaceably important to you, you owe it to yourself to face it head on, rather than running away.

Others forced me to face Spanish; to learn it. I got angry and moody and resisted it. But if I returned to Costa Rica today, I would no longer feel the need to hide behind other, better speakers to order my food for me or talk to the kids at the Vacation Bible School we worked at. Others made me face my fears, and because of it I finally learned Spanish (not well, albeit–but well enough).

Now, because I really care about writing, it’s time that I faced my fears myself.

I am scared of spending all day, every day (for longer than a couple months over the summer) in my chosen field for the first time in my life because it is uncharted territory. But I’m also excited beyond belief to finally leave Spanish behind (along with the rest of my nasty, unasked-for distribution requirements), and I am excited to put myself in those terrifying situations to see whether I sink or float. I’m excited to take literature and writing classes, and finally learn something in school that I actually care about and would like to learn.

I don’t want to do anything else. I love the publishing industry and the people within it. Sure, taking that next step–moving from full-time student who loves to write to full-time creative writing student–is hard. But it’s also the only thing that makes sense. And I want to do it.

I am a writer. I love to write. School might make it harder to appreciate next year, when I have two hundred pages of reading, a ten page analytical essay, and a short story due all on the same day, when all I want to do is work on a novel. But it’s either that or take more Spanish and genetics classes, right? And I am almost as excited to be done with those as I am to take lit courses next fall.

While drafting this final Spanish term paper this weekend, I stumbled across the word aún in my dictionary. It’s common, so of course I’ve used it before, but I never realized it means both “yet” and “still.” Which is interesting, because while those words have similar uses in the English language, they have entirely different meanings.

Yet, as in it hasn’t happened yet. And still, as in I am still waiting.

Yet: It still will happen. Still: It isn’t over yet.

One word is of what is to come; the other is what has not ended, but will. And it is a beautiful realization, the fact that those who speak Spanish view these as being entirely interchangeable, because it makes aún a word not only about the bad things you’d like to leave behind, but the good things you hope will come in the future. It gives you maybe a little bit of despair, but then it smashes that to pieces with hope. 

Still: I am not done with the stressors of college still. Yet: At least I am yet to get to the really fun parts.

Yet: I have so much further to go. Still: I am happy with where I’m at right now.

Two and a half pages to go.

 

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday (“The End Where I Begin, Chapter Four”)

Well, I am now in the midst of all the end-of-fall-semester finals stuff, and I am ready for all of it to be over. This time next week I’ll hopefully be done (it depends on how quickly I get my term papers written). In the meantime I am majorly stressing out.

At the moment, I’ve finished and presented my final Spanish project and finished my genetics term paper (although I still need to edit and turn that one in). Later this week I have to present said-genetics term paper for class. Then next Tuesday I’m taking my one and only final exam, in my social science class, and hopefully turning in my other two term papers. THEN I AM DOOONE.

Amidst all of this finals stuff, I’ve also been going crazy getting applications and contest entries finished and turned in, which I’m luckily about to be finished with (passing the last one off to the people running that writing competition this afternoon–phew).

It’s always that last stretch before the semester’s over that’s the hardest. If you’re struggling through all this junk along with me right now: Good luck. I believe in you. Let’s do this thang.

This week’s Wordy Wednesday is Chapter Four of my NaNo this year, The End Where I Begin.

As always, a reminder that this has seen little to no editing and I’m still in the process of writing the novel, so there will be mistakes and inconsistencies and all that fun stuff throughout.

Read previous chapters:

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

**********

Chapter Four

I’ve never been a big fan of the Recruitment Assembly. Then again, who is?

It happens once a year, the last Tuesday in September. Every school in every reality of the Quantum hosts one, and students years zero through twelve are required to attend.

The students in the elementary and middle schools only have to listen to a speech by their assigned recruiting officers about why we have the Clinic and how it functions. Students in their last years of schooling however, years nine through twelve, must also sit through the actual recruitment process—how the assembly got its name in the first place.

The lights overhead cut back until they’re barely even embers in the ceiling high above us, and harsh fluorescents burst to life above the stage. Principal Scully stands at attention in the corner, eyes focused on some point above our heads. The teachers all stand behind us in a row at the back of the auditorium, hands folded behind their backs and jaws locked.

The same as every year.

Only, this year, maybe not everything will go as planned. Maybe Ramsey will follow through.

I wipe the sweat from my palms on my dress and force my eyes to focus on the two recruiting officers as they enter the stage. They walk with military precision, right foot to right foot, left foot to left. Their arms swing in unison.

They stop beside the microphones, a man and a woman, both with their shapeless uniforms pressed in a way that looks uncomfortable and scalps shaved close. The woman’s ears stick out—she’d look better with hair. The baggy but practical dark brown bodysuits barely allow the glow of their Identibands to shine through.

“Good afternoon, New Capital High.” The man’s voice is gravelly and low. He isn’t the male recruiting officer we’ve had the past few years—I know, because the last one’s voice was rich, and higher—but they change out for no reason sometimes. The speech is always the same anyway. “Welcome to this year’s Recruitment Assembly. We are recruiting officers from the Clinic, as mandated by the high government of the Quantum, here today to talk to you about changes within the Quantum over the course of the past year, the opportunities of working for the Clinic, and to lend an invitation to a select few of you to join our enterprises.”

The woman steps up to the shorter of the two microphone stands and clears her throat. It’s so obviously rehearsed you have to wonder if practicing for the Recruitment Assembly is the only thing they do the other three hundred and sixty four days of the year. “Since the Recruitment Assembly last year, the Quantum has continued to expand, adding a new Eleventh Reality in our linear chain. Some of you may have felt the effects of this expansion in lightheadedness, dizziness, and a rapid heartbeat.” I didn’t, but Amelia did—she threw up for a week straight in May. “As you know, you should not worry about this, as Quantum expansion is a natural and right process and, as always, the Clinic monitors the stability of the Fifth Reality in order to prevent possible collapse.”

The woman’s lips lift in a thin smile as she continues. My stomach gurgles from skipping lunch and Amelia shoots me a smirk. The sweat has begun to collect on my palms too quickly for me to keep them dry against the dress. “Monitoring and maintaining the stability of the realities within the Quantum is just one of the many responsibilities of the Clinic. Our engineers also preserve the inter-reality time stream—making sure that none of the realities fall behind or ahead in the pacing of our time—and our doctors and scientists work to uphold the sanctity and safety of our reality. Recruiting officers like the two of us,” she indicates to herself and her male counterpart, “hope to keep all of you, the citizens of the Fifth Reality, informed about what occurs within the Quantum and how you may also join the Clinic in order to maintain this peace and order.”

The man nods, then opens his mouth to speak. The woman steps away from the microphone and concentrates her gaze on him. “You all know us because we all know you. As you know, every human being within the Quantum, at birth, receives their first Identiband, which we change out for larger and more advanced models as the child grows. As high school students, you all have now received what will be one of your final Identibands—the ones you have now will remain with you until we have constructed a better version with our ever advancing technology.”

I stare at my Identiband and spin it around my wrist. The green glow pulses in time with my racing heart.

The speech is almost done. If Ramsey’s going to attack, it has to be soon.

The man’s smile looks forced, painful. “The Identibands function to allow us to keep track of your thoughts and actions in relation to the thoughts and actions of the versions of you in the other realities, in order to maintain your safety. Our goal is to keep every member of the Fifth Reality as safe, happy, and prosperous as possible, so that the Fifth Reality might be the very best reality for all of you to live in.”

The woman nods to his words like she’s never heard them before, even though she has been the New Capital High female recruiting officer since my brother went here.

In unison they say, “Thank you.”

The woman steps forward in order to better speak into her microphone again. “The Clinic has been monitoring all of you over the course of the past three hundred and sixty five days in order to find who might best fit our program for new recruits. As always, we have selected the ten most qualified students. I will now read the list of names.”

It’s supposed to be a big honor, the Clinic inviting you to join their team, but hardly anyone ever accepts the offer. It’s difficult work and you’re isolated a lot from the rest of society.

The man reads the first name. “Connor Brynn.” A year twelve boy I recognize from the baseball team stands near the front row. He holds his arms close to his sides and tilts his chin up at the officers. “The Clinic has selected you to become an officer of the Fifth Reality. Do you accept this responsibility and honor?”

“No, sir. I’m sorry, sir.”

“Very well.” The male recruiting officer doesn’t even bother to look in Connor’s direction. “You may return to your seat.”

The female recruiting officer says the name of a girl also in year twelve, the girl rejects the offer, and so the Recruitment Assembly continues.

I’m year eleven, at sixteen years old, and they never choose anyone from below year twelve, so I don’t pay attention as the names continue. My mouth is dry and pulse racing faster and faster as I glance around the auditorium for Ramsey. She’s nowhere in sight. I squeeze my thigh with one hand.

It’s okay, Alexa. It’s going to be okay. Ramsey wouldn’t attack you here, now. It’s probably just a rumor anyway. It’s—

“Alexa Dylan.”

I don’t know who’s said my name at first. I don’t even realize it came from the crackling speaker system rather than one of the students sitting around me until I feel the eyes of every person in the auditorium fall upon me.

“What?” My voice is quiet in my own ears.

“They called your name.” Amelia prods me in the shoulder. “Get up, you numbbrain. Stand up and tell them your decision.”

“But we’re only year eleven.”

“Doesn’t matter. Get up.”

The female recruiting officer clears her throat into the mic, just as practiced a sound as before. I can’t remember the last time someone didn’t stand and state their intent right away.

My knees shake beneath my weight as I push myself to my feet.

“The Clinic has selected you to become an officer of the Fifth Reality.” The woman has to squint to see me from beneath the harsh lights onstage. “Do you accept this responsibility and honor?”

The word, “No,” is on my lips. The tip of my tongue taps the roof of my mouth, ready to pronounce the N. But then the word that slips out instead is, “Yes.” Full of breath, but loud enough to hear. The kids around me shift away, turn to stare. My Identiband is pinching my wrist.

It’s strange, because I don’t want to work for the Clinic. I’ve never wanted anything to do with them, and I prefer the way I only baseline understand the way the Quantum works—it’s so vast and complicated and frightening. I don’t want to know more.

But the word comes out anyway, nearly of its own accord.

Maybe it’s good, then, that Amelia shouts, “Oh my goodness!” and someone else screams, “It’s the Ram!”

I think Eric says something too, but everyone seems very far away, including myself.

I think the light on my Identiband flickers, green to something else—a color I don’t have a name for—but I don’t know, I don’t know, because it’s still pinching the soft skin at the base of my hand and the reason I haven’t been able to spot Ramsey up until this point is because she has been sitting directly behind me.

And she chooses this moment to grab my wrist, spin me to face her, and punch me in the jaw.

She mouths something as I fall, but I can’t make it out

I’m aware of screaming, and falling. Then darkness, dark, dar—

**********

68

 

~Julia