She looked like she was expecting me to say more. “You didn’t like it?”
“I didn’t… not like it.” I struggled to describe my opinion and then I realised. “I don’t have an opinion on it. It happened and it surprised me.”
Karla looked surprised herself and I knew that it was weird that I didn’t have an opinion. “I don’t know what to tell you,” she admitted, “if you’d enjoyed it then I’d suggest you do it some more, if you hadn’t then I’d say you have your answer. Neither? Makes it a little harder.”
“When you’re doing an experiment you have to do it more than once,” I said, “should I try again and see if I like it more?”
She smiled like I had made a joke. “I understand your intent, but I would advise against it, you see…” she stopped and thought about it. Obviously I didn’t see. “If I had to guess, Marie likes you a lot, and if you were to kiss her she would think that you felt the same way. If you decide that you don’t like kissing her then, even if you didn’t mean to, you will have gotten her hopes up only to crush them.”
“What should I do?” I asked. She appeared to know what she was talking about.
“Not a clue.” She shrugged and smiled like it was funny. “I’ve never been in a comparable position. What do you want to do?”
That was the second time in my life I had ever been asked that question, the first time had been when they were trying to decide what to do with me when my parents died. All the options had been given me and Francesca had smiled and asked what I wanted to do. It was partly for that reason I had decided to come to this place.
What did I want? I liked Marie, liked her more than anyone else I’d ever met, though it was a very low bar. But what did I know about being in any sort of relationship? I didn’t know anything about it, of course there was one sure way to learn.
“I want to be a normal person,” I said eventually, “I want to do normal things.”
“You’re what, fourteen?” she grinned. “The normal thing to do would be to agonise about it for weeks and then throw caution to the wind.”
“Hmm.” I pulled my knees up under my chin. “I think I’ve got the agonising down.”
She smiled. “Next comes throwing caution to the wind.” She paused a moment. “That would probably be very helpful for you.”
For a moment I wondered what she meant by that, but it was pretty obvious. My problem was caution, I had always had be cautious about everything I did and said. I didn’t anymore but the habit stayed with me.
“That’s probably enough for this week.” She said, checking her watch. “There’s still about another twenty minutes if you want to talk about anything else.”
There might have been some other things I should have talked about, but there wasn’t anything I wanted to talk about. “Nothing.”
“Maybe you should go talk to Marie?”
“I’ll go do that now.” I stood purposefully then paused.
“Best to do it before you lose your nerve.” She smiled. “I’ll see you next week.”
I nodded and decided that she was right, best to do it right away.
There wasn’t anyone in the twins’ bedroom when I got there, they were both downstairs, eating breakfast. For once Marie was sitting with her sister, who was sitting with her friends, though she didn’t look any happier than she had when sitting by herself.
I approached them, cleared my throat, and impersonated a fish for a few seconds. I opened my mouth, noticed everyone staring at me, closed it again, opened my mouth, realised I didn’t know what to say, closed it again.
With a deep breath I tried again. “Marie,” I choked, “I need to talk to you.”
Everyone was surprised, justifiably, but none more than Vivian, whose response I attributed to mind reading, as the reason I needed to talk to Marie was lodged firmly in my thoughts. I needed to speak with the girl, and her sister knew why.
Marie nodded wordlessly and followed me, leaving her mostly untouched breakfast behind, to an empty table in a far corner of the hall. We sat down across from one another and both started to speak at the same time, we both stopped at the same time and gestured for the other to go first.
“I’ll go first.” She decided, before we could repeat the performance. “I’m… sorry about last night. I know that you aren’t very good with people, or at least I assume that that is why you spent most of the last two weeks speechless. I wanted you to know that I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable. But… well…” She trailed off.
“Before I met you I’d never had anyone smile like they were happy to see me.” I told her. “Never had anyone worry about me other than in passing, never had anyone hug me, never had anyone kiss me. I don’t want you to go away, but…”
“Look,” she sat forward, “I like you a lot, but… part of the reason is that you didn’t say a word. It was so nice to meet someone who didn’t seem to want anything from me. My sister wants me to be her little sister for the rest of my life, and Kerry… I don’t know what she wants. You didn’t seem to want anything.”
“I…” I what? “I want to be normal, like a regular person. If you kissed a regular person, what would they do?”
She smiled. “Not a clue.” She admitted with ease, but continued anyway. “The way I see it, there are three options at this point, we can stop being friends, we can stay friends, or we can… I don’t know, be girlfriends.”
“I want things to stay the same.” I told her. “Things were suddenly good, suddenly simple, and now they aren’t. I want things to stay good and simple.”
“You didn’t speak for two weeks.” She said. “That must be because of what happened before you came here, and I don’t want to make things bad. I just want… I don’t know. I would rather stay friends than not, but I would rather you be my girlfriend, but I don’t… I don’t want you to just do what I want, I want you to want it too.”
I almost told her, directly, that I didn’t want it, but then I stopped, because it wasn’t true. I didn’t want it for the same reasons she did, I didn’t feel the same way, not as far as I knew at least. But I wanted it none the less.
“I want…” it was hard to get my thoughts in order, “I don’t know if I enjoyed you kissing me, I want to know if I like you like you like me, but… I’m not sure that I do. If we kissed more or did… whatever it is that girlfriends are supposed to do, I would still be making up my mind.”
“Basically you don’t know if you like me, but you are willing to find out?” Marie looked like she wasn’t sure if she appreciated this or not.
“I like you.” I told her. “I just… never liked anyone I met before.”
“I…” she stopped and thought about it and it was like I could see the things I had said fitting together in her mind. “I want you to feel about me the way I feel about you. Do you think… do you think that you might come to like me that way?”
“I don’t know.” I admitted, then looked down at my hands, then at her and back at my hands. I wanted to tell her why I didn’t know, I wanted her to know why I had no idea what it was that I should be doing. “Can you come with me? I want you to see something.”
She blinked and several options passed through her mind and were discarded as unreasonable. Judging by the look her sister gave her, Vivian was scandalised by the thoughts passing through her sister’s head.
Marie nodded and I got up from the table, having had nothing to eat. We went back to my room and I locked the door behind Marie. For a short moment my courage failed me and before I could lose my nerve completely I pulled off my hoodie, revealing that I wore nothing under it, and turned.
Marie, who had been on the verge of a blush when I disrobed, gasped, and not in a manner that indicated that her blush had manifested. Mostly I didn’t have many scars, most were in places where I had to be naked or close to for them to be seen, but the ones on my lower back were still the most vivid, even years after they had been made.
Feeling oddly exposed, oddly because I had been naked most of my time in this room, I pulled my hoodie back over my body, obscuring my nudity and past. I turned to Marie and struggled to force the words from my mouth.
“Most of my life that has been what happened to me when I showed emotion or when I showed interest, or when my parents were bored or inebriated enough.” I told her. “When I tell you that I don’t know, I really, really mean it.”
She sat down in the direction of my desk chair and fell to the floor, where she continued to stare. She opened her mouth as if to speak and managed a quiet squeak before reconsidering and leaping to her feet and, rather aggressively, wrapping her arms around me.
Again her arms around me made me feel better, though this time it wasn’t because she was, as she had said, giving me her thoughts. Just her presence had always made me feel better. That thought caught in my head.
I pulled away and looked into her face, trying to capture her attention. “I want you to tell me what you mean when you say that you like me a lot.”
She sniffed and blinked at me like she hadn’t heard, then her gaze cleared and she nodded. I wondered if she had realised why it was I wanted her to tell me. “I don’t…” she started to tell me that she didn’t know, and stopped. “When I’m around you I feel good, you know? I don’t feel like I need to fill the silence. I feel comfortable just because you are around.”
Marie obviously considered her next words. “I find you attractive. I… I like you.” She shrugged and blushed. “You interest me, I want to spend more time with you. I think about you when I should be sleeping or working. You stick in my mind.”
For a moment I felt intense panic, then I stepped closer to her and kissed her. I had no doubt I did it poorly or improperly, but I didn’t really mind at that point. “You just expressed exactly how I feel about you.” I told her, though her expression of surprise indicated that maybe she wasn’t listening as closely as I would have liked.
She blinked a couple of times. “Really?” She asked like she didn’t quite believe it.
“More than once the only reason I’ve left my room at all was because I wanted to go for a walk with you, wanted to spend time with you.” I informed her. “I think about you when I am alone, I feel better when I am around you.”
Marie kissed me again.
I was sure that my mind was blank, but that was a thought, wasn’t it? My mind was suddenly not blank and Marie was looking up at me, face completely flushed red and real fear in her eyes. I knew real fear and I knew I had to do something before she freaked out.
“That was unexpected.”
Her expression turned to one of surprise and I couldn’t help but be surprised too. I don’t know what I had planned to do, but speaking hadn’t been it. My voice was dry and quiet and sounded like I hadn’t used it for six weeks.
“Unexpected good, or unexpected bad?” she asked.
I took a deep breath, then crouched on the floor and crawled under my bed. They were coming to get me, I was suddenly sure of it. The image of the coffins tipping into the fire was stuck in my head, but it didn’t help. They were coming to get me.
Marie crouched down to look at me. “Are you alright?”
I shook my head, I was far from alright. I had spoken without my parents present, had spoken without their consent. Sure they were dead and burned but they were still coming to get me. I knew it as surely as I knew that they weren’t coming.
Marie crawled under the bed, apparently assuming that I wasn’t hiding from her, and reached out to take my hand. I let her take my hand, I didn’t do anything. They wouldn’t find us here. That’s why I was under the bed, they wouldn’t find me here.
She shifted a little further under the bed and pulled me closer to her. Then she shifted closer again and pulled me away from the wall. Small movements brought us closer and closer together until I thought she was going to kiss me again.
But she didn’t, she wrapped her arms around me. “It’s alright.” She told me, and I believed her.
In the dark and quiet underneath my bed she held me and told me that it was alright and I believed her. Except that moments ago I had been certain that they were coming to get me, certain it was far from alright. I hadn’t ever been hugged before but I was sure it shouldn’t be enough to make me believe it was alright.
Then I looked at her and I saw it, the reason that I thought it was alright. She was doing something to me, I could see it like a little string that led from the centre of her forehead to me. I had no idea what I saw but I knew that it was what was making me believe her.
“What are you doing?” I asked, somehow not afraid to speak.
“Trying to calm you down.” She smiled. It wasn’t that she was dodging the question, just that she was assuming I knew how she was doing it.
“How?” I asked.
“I…” She looked surprised and the thread snapped and my heart sped up and my breathing came faster. “I thought you knew.”
“I can… give people thoughts,” she said, “I thought you knew, I’m sorry.”
Suddenly quite a few things fell into place in my memory and started vying for attention. It was a welcome distraction. Vivian looked at me funny whenever I thought about Marie, looked at me in surprise as I watched her go up the stairs, knew I wasn’t wearing underwear.
‘… it’ll turn out she’s mute and you’ll never know what she’s thinking,’ teases Marie’s voice in my mind. ‘Must be a pain, can’t know what’s on her mind’ came with Lea’s smile. Teasing Kerry about something.
The way Lea and Dianna had known exactly how I felt when they tried to get me to play softball and later in the town. Extra pieces were added to the oddness and an impossible suggestion pushed itself into my mind.
Marie watched patiently as the revelation hit me. “You should have been told before you got here,” she said. “I don’t know why you weren’t.”
I took a deep breath in through my mouth and sighed it out through my nose, my pulse slowed a little. I did it again and again, slowing my breathing and my panicked heart and trying my very best to calm my raging mind.
“Time to come out?” Marie asked.
I seriously considered staying under the bed, but I knew that my parents were dead and gone, never coming to get me for doing something they didn’t approve of. I nodded and gestured that she should move.
Slowly we extracted ourselves and I stood stiffly, like we had been under there for a long time, and tried to brush the dust off my hoodie. It didn’t really work. Marie looked like she was going to say something, but appeared to decide against it and tried to brush her own dust off.
“I…” she paused at the doorway a moment. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”
Tomorrow would be Saturday. I nodded, not sure that I was being honest, and waited for the door to close behind her before I let out a breath I felt like I had been holding since she started pacing. At least that worry was resolved, I hadn’t done something wrong after all, at least I probably hadn’t.
But now I had more things to worry about.
It was no coincidence that the five people I had met so far at the school all appeared to have some sort of psychic power. It was also no coincidence that Kerry didn’t like me and Marie had just kissed me.
I didn’t want new things to worry about, but I didn’t every time get what I wanted.
Though Marie had kissed me.
Marie had kissed me.
I found it unusually easy to fall asleep and I didn’t mind when there was a knock at my door at eight in the morning. It was Karla, making good on her promise to come back this week. I looked around for some clothes to put on before realising that I was already wearing them.
“I figure we might as well do this at the door,” Karla smiled, “do you want to talk to me this week?”
I checked the corridor for anyone else. “I think so.” I said, sure that there was no one else to hear me.
She grinned, broad and honest. “Good,” she led me to the counselling room and sat down, watching me expectantly. “What do you want to talk about?”
I sat down across from her and thought about it for a moment. “Are you psychic?”
Her eyebrows raised and she smiled. “I have an psychic connection with my sister,” she admitted, “we can, at any time, talk to each other through that.”
“Marie said you should have told me.”
“I figured my sister would have.” She said, and then paused. I remembered in the car with Francesca when something indefinable had looked just a little more definable for a moment, this was the same. “She says that she wanted to let you work it out… she won’t say why.” She focused on me again. “If I’d known you didn’t know I would have told you, I’m sorry about that.”
I nodded. “Marie kissed me.” I told her.
Karla’s eyes widened and for a few seconds she opened her mouth to speak, then closed it, then tried again. “She kissed you?” she blinked, obviously caught completely off guard. “Ok, so she kissed you?”
“She did.” I confirmed. “I… you know where I came from.”
She opened her mouth to speak and then stopped and thought about what I meant. “You don’t know what to do.” She said, not a question. “Of course you’d have no idea.” She grimaced.
I didn’t say anything.
“Did you enjoy being kissed?”
I thought about it. “I was surprised.”
The second week was much the same in content as the first week had been, I went to class and sat with Marie, then I went back to my room and amused myself until dinner. After dinner I did any work I had been given that day and finished catching up on what I had missed and then I went for a walk with Marie.
As time went on I noticed something about Marie, something I had noticed last week but was much more evident this week. She talked less than I had seen her talk the previous week. She had started talking less the previous week but it was different now. Around me she would barely speak but the rest of the time she had, now she didn’t seem to.
It was, in a manner of speaking, my fault that Marie had started to speak less and both Kerry and Vivian seemed to take issue with it. But I found that not only did I not particularly care what they took issue with, I greatly enjoyed spending time in silence with Marie. In general I enjoyed spending time with Marie.
It was Thursday when something happened, I knew it the moment I saw Marie leaning against the archway that night. She was tense, her smile was pinched like she wasn’t sure she should be happy to see me. Something was wrong.
I didn’t know what to do, of course I didn’t, no one had ever cared when something was wrong with me so how could I know what I should do. So I did what I had seen people do, I still wouldn’t speak so I could only act.
Lightly I touched her on the shoulder and tried my best to look worried, though I wasn’t sure how to look worried. For a moment she looked back like she wasn’t sure, like maybe she shouldn’t tell me. Then she sighed.
“There is something up with Kerry,” she told me, going through the gate ahead of me. And so we did not walk in silence, she spoke and I listened to her. I doubted I would be of any use, but still I listened, just in case.
Kerry had been acting odd for a while, since even before I arrived, but it was like I had exacerbated the problem. She paused to explain the word exacerbate. Obviously it wasn’t my fault, she made this clear to me, but I seemed to have had an effect on the girl.
Marie had finally gotten fed up with the girl acting strange and had asked what was wrong, and Kerry had finally relented, she didn’t mention what Kerry had relented to, and said that it was me. I was the problem, I was why she was acting weird. She said that Marie was spending too much time with me, starting to act like me.
What right did Kerry have to tell Marie what to do?
The girl took a deep breath and sighed heavily. “Thanks for listening.” She said with an air of finality. She didn’t speak after that, and I didn’t think she wanted to either, she wanted to think about it, so we walked in silence the rest of the way. It wasn’t the usual, comfortable, silence though.
She almost walked straight into the front door, paying her surroundings almost no attention. She only stopped because I grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her backwards a little. Then she lost her balance and fell backwards against me.
“Sorry.” She apologised immediately and blushed. Quickly she opened the door and started up the steps, a little way ahead of me.
I followed more slowly, letting her get ahead of me, and when I reached our floor she had already reached her bedroom. The door closed loudly behind her in the silence and with growing concern I entered my own room.
Had I done something I shouldn’t have? Should I have let her run into the door? Should I have ignored her upset? Should I have done something differently? With a sigh to match Marie’s earlier I pulled off my clothes and lay down on the floor.
But I couldn’t get to sleep, even away from the comforting bed. I just lay there and worried that I had done something wrong. It wasn’t like I knew anything about people, not really, I didn’t know how to comfort someone or how to… anything.
I don’t know what time it was when I got to sleep, but when the alarm sounded I knew that I hadn’t been asleep long enough. I was still worried, but the only way I would ever learn how to interact with people was by interacting with them.
That morning Vivian looked like she was going to speak to me as she passed me on the stairs, but chose not to. Marie was sitting alone, at a different table. Kerry sat by herself where they usually sat, watching Marie.
For a moment I didn’t know what to do, and then Marie smiled her smile at me and waved and, under a dark look from Kerry, I sat down across from Marie. Her smile changed a little before fading into a frown.
“Sorry about last night,” she said, quietly, “I kind of ran off, didn’t I?”
I wasn’t sure if I should tell the truth, nod, or shake my head like nothing had happened. But I wanted to know what had happened. So I nodded. She sighed and looked down at her hands and seemed to think very hard for a few moments on what to say.
“I’m sorry,” she kept looking at her hands. “I was just upset about Kerry and you grabbed me and I got kind of… flustered.”
I didn’t get it, and I wasn’t convinced that she was telling me the truth. There was something that she didn’t want to tell me. I wanted to know what it was, but I was hardly going to just ask her, and what if it was something that I had done?
So I nodded and started on my breakfast, sure that I was just as obviously dishonest as she was. She didn’t say anything else as we ate. She didn’t say anything during classes, didn’t say anything during lunch. Didn’t speak at all.
It wasn’t that silence was unusual as we spent our day together, but it wasn’t a comfortable silence that day, wasn’t a companionable thing. It was awkward, she didn’t speak because she didn’t know what to say.
For once I was first to arrive at the gate. It was quiet in the dark by myself, the silence was calming on my worries. I was still worried that I had done something the previous night that had lead to Marie not wanting to talk to me.
And the longer I waited the more sure I was that I had done something, she wasn’t coming. She was going to leave me out there in the cold rather than tell me what was going on. What, then, should I do?
I decided to go for a walk regardless of whether Marie was there or not and then turned on my heel and walked back into the building and up to my room.
And there she was, sitting in front of my bedroom door, waiting for me. She looked up at me and half smiled like she was happy to see me but not happy that she had to go through with whatever she had decided to do.
I stopped and for a moment considered my options, then I unlocked the door and gestured her inside, resisting the urge to disrobe. I stood awkwardly for a moment before taking a deep breath and sitting on the bed.
She pulled the chair out of my desk and sat down, and I couldn’t help but recall the numerous times that I had sat naked in that chair. A strong desire to make her get off the chair came to me but I forced it from my mind and focused on the confused looking young woman before me.
“Um…” she tried, looking away from her feet. “I… want to tell you something.”
She stood and paced two steps towards the door and for a moment I feared she would run away, then she turned and paced to the back of the room. Then she turned again and kept on pacing the small room, back and forth before me.
“The thing is…” she admitted, stopping before me. But she just stood there, mouth slightly open, for a few moments before resuming her pacing.
“It’s just that…” she didn’t stop pacing.
I stood and physically stopped her, my hands on her arms, facing one another. She stared up into my face and the expression there was completely foreign to me. And then she did something that I might have expected had I know anything about people.
She stretched up onto her toes and kissed me, square on the lips.
I don’t really like to post about myself past a certain point, but something just occurred to me.
Some months ago I was diagnosed with asperges syndrome, not an issue in itself, but the whole deal has been reclassified recently as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD for short) and it just occurred that it should bother me to have a mental disorder. I am not crazy, just a little unusual, so I feel that I shouldn’t have a disorder. None of my friends who are like me have a disorder.
I just feel like it shouldn’t be called a disorder, though I suppose it technically is. There is something unusual about my brain, something unusual being fairly the definition of a disorder.
Just a thought.
“You alright?” the voice was masculine and sounded legitimately concerned. I sat up from where I lay under a tree somewhere quite a distance from the busses and saw a young man with short blonde hair and the look of someone who preyed on girls.
I leapt to my feet and backed away from him, running into the tree I had been sitting under and nodded, quickly assessing escape routes. He didn’t seem to catch on to my mood. “You’re from that school, yeah?” he asked, stepping forward.
I stepped to the side, over a root, and moved another step away from him, nodding.
He stepped after me again. “Are there really only girls there?” he asked.
I nodded, stepping away from him again. A hand touched my shoulder and I would have probably screamed if the owner hadn’t appeared in my field of view at the same time. It was Diana, still wearing her smile.
“Found you,” she pointed out. “We’ve been looking for you.”
“Hey…” the boy didn’t get any further when Diana looked away from me at him. I couldn’t see her expression but he looked like he was trying to decide between wetting himself and running away. In the end he chose the latter. “Whatever.” He turned and walked off.
“We haven’t really been looking,” Diana admitted, “though Marie seemed concerned about something now that I think about it. That line just usually makes the dudes back off, then comes the glaring.”
“She’s had practice,” Lea’s voice came from behind us and I turned to find the girl staring intently at her phone. “She’s good at driving people away.”
Diana cuffed her and they both smiled, glancing at me before starting away from the park I had been lounging in. With a look over my shoulder at the boy who had just accosted me and his group of laughing friends I followed them.
I wasn’t totally sure that I had had my fill of being alone yet, but I also wasn’t sure that I wanted to be alone in a place that I had had no experience with. I didn’t know what was around here, who was around here, and I didn’t want to get lost or… something. I’d never actually been lost in my life, maps just appeared in my mind as I explored, so it wasn’t that I was afraid of being lost, more afraid of being separated from everyone else, it was the people rather than the place.
So I tailed Diana and Lea for a while, until they met more of their friends, and finally I started having a proper look around. I still had the list in my mind of what I wanted to buy, or at least do. I decided that it was time to do something that I wanted to do.
First on the list was clothes, there was a reason I spent almost all my time wearing just the hoodie, it was the only piece of clothing I had ever bought myself. It was also the first secret I had ever kept from my parents.
Clothes turned out to be way more expensive than I remembered, and I came away with a t-shirt and some underwear and a pair of pants, all of which I wore out of the store, throwing away what I had been wearing, except, obviously, for my hoodie.
It was nearly three in the afternoon when I ran into Marie again, assessing my choice of pizza I heard the door open behind me and turned to find Marie and Kerry. Marie’s face went from worried to happy to worried again. Worried that something had happened to happy that I was alright to worried that I would run away again.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
I shook my head and smiled, intending to indicate that she need not worry, but either the message was not clear or she chose to worry anyway. Her expression became more like concern and she gave me a closer look.
“Diana told me that she had rescued you from Adam, but didn’t know where you had gone,” she gave me a look of concern.
I shrugged, though I remembered needing rescuing.
“I suppose if you don’t speak you can’t say no,” Kerry muttered, before seeming to realise what she had just said. “Sorry.”
“Anyway,” Marie visibly cast aside her concern and looked at the menu above the counter. “What are you going to get?”
I pointed and she leaned close to me to see where I pointed, making my heart speed up. “Meat lovers?” she smiled. “You want to split a large?”
In truth I wanted to eat an entire large by myself, but according the menu I couldn’t afford that, so I nodded and turned to the drink fridge. I had no idea what most of the things in the fridge were, so I picked orange juice quite easily.
Kerry gave me the look that she had for me, that subtly informed me that I had just trodden on whatever plans she happened to have had. Mostly I didn’t understand her concern, it wasn’t like I had known Marie longer or was the one who made Marie decide to do things with me.
We ordered, or Marie and Kerry ordered and I stood nearby while this happened, offering money when it was asked for. We sat in a booth, one of three unoccupied, and ate in silence, which Kerry appeared to think was my fault.
“You didn’t like the movie?” Kerry eventually broke the silence, to a look of admonishment from Marie. “You left before it got good.”
I wondered for a few moments how to respond to that, I hadn’t had any issue with the movie itself, not that I had cared for it either, the movie had nothing to do with why I had run off. Eventually I shrugged and kept eating pizza.
After pizza we wandered around the town and the map slowly formed in my mind. We walked in silence, Marie and I shoulder to shoulder as we walked in the evenings and Kerry alternately ahead of us and trailing behind.
I could see that the older girl was getting progressively more irritated as we walked and Marie paid me more attention than she paid her. There was nothing I could do about it though, short of running away, and I didn’t feel so much like running as I had before, wearing clothes I had bought myself and full of food that was unhealthy.
My calm had returned, not the studied calm my parents had forced on me, my own calm. I was not in danger here, with Marie, I did not need to protect myself. At least not in the way that I normally would have.
I didn’t recall being told what time to go back to the busses but it was like at breakfast when everyone seemed to get some sort of signal I was missing, Marie and Kerry just turned around and started toward the busses.
We arrived in time to become part of the crowd that wasn’t much like a crowd and within a couple of minutes we were on our way back to school and the outing was over. This time Marie sat beside me and Kerry, giving me a dark look, sat in front of us.
It seemed like I had upset Kerry today, though I wasn’t totally sure why, certainly I had spent time with Marie, but so had she. I spend most of most days at school with Marie without upsetting Kerry, so what made today different?
Marie and I sat in silence, staring out the window, as the bus moved, and Kerry fidgeted in front of us, a strong desire to speak with Marie evident in her manner. My presence disturbed her plans, that was the problem she had with me.
Once back at the school I left Marie and Kerry to their own devices and retreated back to my room, stripping and lying down on the floor again. I lay there with my eyes closed and took several deep breaths before getting up and opening one of the text books on my desk.
A knock came at the door, Kerry stood without. I got dressed and opened it, eyebrow raised. “I have been instructed to apologise for my behaviour today,” she informed me. “I had plans and your presence disturbed them, but I should not have behaved as I did and I am sorry.” It looked like it almost pained her to have to say so, I knew who had instructed her to come, just like I knew that what she said was almost exactly what she had been told to say.
I nodded, more acknowledgement than acceptance and she paused a moment, then nodded in return and turned on her heel. I closed the door behind her and returned to catching up on my schoolwork, trying not to be concerned.
I woke feeling rested and nearly content for the first time since my leg had been broken and I had had to be sedated, some six years before. The mattress was soft and the covers were just warm enough that I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to get up.
Then whoever was at my door knocked again and I was woken completely. With a sigh I rolled from my bed and pulled on my hoodie. At the door was Marie and her sister, so I opened it with a raised eyebrow.
“It just occurred to us that you probably don’t know,” Vivian didn’t look like she was quite happy that it had occurred to them, “but on Sunday mornings we go into town for most of the day. You may have to put more clothes on.”
Of course I would need more clothes, I was naked under here.
“Underwear would be a good start,” Vivian told me. “The busses leave in ten minutes.”
Marie smiled a little and they started down the hall towards the stairs. I closed the door and quickly dressed, splashing some water in my face in an attempt to wake myself up some more, which only succeeded in making me damp. I was halfway down the stairs before it occurred to me that without any money, at least none that I could access, I would have very little to do in town.
Though I would likely still get to spend time with Marie. Outside the dorm building was something of a crowd, though there was no jostling and very little crowd-like behaviour. As with everything that the students had to do in a group they seemed quite organised without any visible organisation.
I found myself standing behind a group of girls, which included Vivian, who were all talking a little louder that was really necessary and laughing and apparently being excited. It was odd to me the difference between the twins, there Vivian stood, in the centre of the group, smiling and laughing and enthusing with the rest, appearing to enjoy herself greatly. But in front of the group Marie complained to Kerry about the girls behind them.
People had always interested me, I hadn’t had much opportunity to interact with them, hadn’t had much opportunity to be one of them, so had taken everyone opportunity to observe. People were all different, no matter how similar they appeared.
Vivian was a prime example of this, she performed her part perfectly, laughing and enthusing and grinning and talking more than anyone else. But when I looked at her all I saw was that she was acting, I could see an actor there, portraying a part that she was very good at.
It was like she knew I was wondering about her, Vivian’s eyes snapped to me and for a moment I saw concern on her face before she smiled and pushed past her friends to guide me through the group to stand on the other side with Marie and Kerry.
Kerry looked as happy as ever to see me, not so much unhappy as just slightly less happy than she had been moments before. Marie smiled at me a little, but I could tell she was still curious about the previous evening and what Vivian had said to me.
Behind me Vivian’s friends were curious about what had just happened, all apparently quite invested in anything their leader did. I tuned them out in time to find that the conversation between Kerry and Marie had apparently ceased. Kerry was obviously of the opinion that this was my fault.
After another couple of minutes of queuing we reached the bus that the younger half of the school was packing into and found that the driver was Francesca, wearing a bright and genuine looking smile.
“Nice to see you again Alice,” she smiled. “I’ll need a word with you before you get off the bus, alright?”
I nodded and followed Marie deeper into the bus, sitting behind her and Kerry with an empty seat beside me. There were seventy six seats in the bus and when the doors closed there were sixty three people, not including Francesca.
The bus ride took about an hour and a half, and everyone excitedly filed out of the bus, I waited as everyone else got off the bus before I approached Francesca, who was fiddling with something under her seat. With a shout of triumph that startled me she extracted a messenger bag and opened it up.
“Since you can’t get access to the money your parents left you for another two years,” she pulled out a wallet. “We will give you some money every time we come out here.” She handed me a hundred dollars. “Since the welfare system, in an attempt to compensate for their utter failure with your parents, is paying for your education with us, we can afford to give everyone who doesn’t have money of their own some spending money.”
Regardless of how much they were charging for my education I was surprised that they would give teenage girls so much money to spend on whatever they wanted. Or at least I assumed it was whatever we wanted, since neither Francesca or Karla, the only two adults who were with us, made any move to keep an eye on us.
The moment I realised that I had just been given a fair amount of money, at least the most I had ever had at any one time, and released to do whatever I wanted with it my mind flashed with the myriad possibilities and I stopped where I stood.
“The novelty wears off,” Marie assured me, steering me off the road.
I stared at her, how could the novelty wear off? How could this be normal to anyone? I suddenly understood why everyone had been so excited about coming here. Maybe they weren’t all excited for the same thing, I wasn’t like people, but I was likely not alone in my joy.
That didn’t mean that I wouldn’t enjoy it, only that I needed a list of priorities. First would be…
“You lot want to come to the cinema with us?” Vivian’s voice interrupted my list.
Marie and Kerry looked at each other and shrugged before Marie glanced at me and the cinema appeared at the top of my list. I had seen a cinema once, but never been inside. I knew what a movie was, but I’d never seen one.
I nodded emphatically.
The inside of the building was dark and within was a large electronic board with words and times, presumably the names of movies and when they were playing. I had no idea what any of the names meant or what any of the movies were about, but I suspected that it didn’t really matter.
We ended up picking a movie with a title like ‘hard to kill 9′. There were twenty eight girls from our school in there along with five or six other people around my age who weren’t from our school and who sat at some distance from us.
It was like a miracle to me, I’d been near television so it wasn’t like I didn’t know what was happening but it was still like a miracle. The people on the screen were actors, portraying roles that were as poorly defined as they were poorly executed but that wasn’t the miracle. The miracle was that everyone in that cinema enjoyed themselves, girls threw popped corn kernels at each other and the screen and people had fun.
I just sat there, still like the eye of the storm, and wondered what my life would have been like if my parents had never been released, if I had gone into foster care, or even come to this school some years before. I wondered what I could have been like.
And then I had to get up and walk out of the cinema, much to the apparent surprise and interest of the nine or so girls sitting near enough to notice. For a moment I thought I had escaped but then Marie came out of the cinema after me and it turned out I was wrong.
As much as I enjoyed Marie’s company, I didn’t want anyone’s company at that particular moment. I didn’t want to be near any people at that moment so I did the rational thing and ran away. I literally ran from the building, ignoring Marie calling after me.
I had no idea where I could possibly be going, where I was, or what was around there, but I had to run away. I had to be alone, away from all these people who were acting just like people ought to act. I needed to get away.
When I was younger, eleven, I had had this dream where I had been living all by myself in the apartment where I had really lived with my parents and I’d been attending the school I’d been attending the year past. I’d dreamed that my parents hadn’t been released, hadn’t been declared sane.
That first week felt so much like that dream. I would do things like smile at Kerry’s laugh and then look over my shoulder for what would have normally come of it and it wasn’t there. I would smile at something Marie said and my heart would speed up and I would panic, forcing the expression from my face before someone saw it and then I would remember the coffins tipping into the fire.
I would sit on my bed and be comfortable and I would have to get up and sit on the floor, lest someone find me enjoying myself. Over and over I would start to enjoy myself only for my throat to seize up and panic to set in for a moment.
But regardless of my paranoia I enjoyed myself, and so it was like my dream. My parents were gone, never coming back, I was free to enjoy myself, free to express myself, free to have friends and stare at people and do what I wanted. I just couldn’t convince myself of it.
Marie smiled as she left me at my room and I watched her go, mostly because I enjoyed looking at her, it made me feel better, and a little because she was nice to look at. Then I went inside and sat down on my bed and took off my clothes.
I lay on the floor and stared at the ceiling and seriously considered sleep before sitting at the desk and opening up my books once more. It wasn’t the only thing I did when I couldn’t sleep, wasn’t even my first instinct, but I felt I ought to catch up and it tended to stimulate my mind more than other things.
Before I knew it, or at least while I wasn’t really paying it much attention, it was eight in the morning and someone was knocking on the door. It was Karla, hastily I dressed before opening the door, avoiding what had happened last time.
“Good to see you clothes,” the woman managed a smile, she wanted something from me, I could see it. “I need you to come with me.”
I wanted to ask what she could possibly want from a fourteen year old girl but I had yet to force any words from my mouth since I had first seen my parents’ corpses. As I followed her through the building my mind flashed on videos of what mature women would want with younger girls and I had to look away. Obviously that wasn’t what was going to happen.
We entered a small office on the third floor at the back of the dorm building, the back being furthest from the road, and she gestured to a seat. There were four chairs in the room, two against the wall and two in the middle of the room, all of them looked comfortable.
I sat down, fidgeted and pulled a leg up so that I could lean my chin on it and look quizzically at the woman who sat across from me in the middle of the room. I knew what this place was and I was surprised that anyone had bothered with this at all.
“Right,” she looked a little uncomfortable. “My sister and I know where you come from, no one else here does and so we need you to talk to one of us. Since I have training and more free time, I am the counsellor.”
I lifted my head enough to nod.
“It is mandatory for any students who have been exposed to violence or abuse to have counselling until they are sixteen,” she informed me, furrowing her brow a little. “After that it is up to the student in question. There is no way for either of us to get around this.”
That just made me wonder if she wanted to get out of it too. I wasn’t ready to break my silence yet and that meant that either she would sit there and get more and more frustrated or she leave me alone.
“Do you want to talk to me about anything?” she asked after a pause, as if my time was up.
It was because she phrased it that way that I was truthfully able to shake my head. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about anything. The thing was that if she’d asked me any other question I would have given the same response, I wasn’t going to talk to her, not to anyone.
She looked at me a long moment before rubbing her eyes. “You’re not just shy are you?” she asked, more of herself than of me. I shook my head, I wasn’t just shy, I was shy certainly but that wasn’t enough, wasn’t the whole reason.
For a moment longer she held my gaze, as if she still wasn’t sure. “I don’t know what I can do then,” she admitted. “I don’t have the time to be your friend and I doubt you’d want that anyway. You are free to go, or to stay and sit quietly or anything. I will come to get you again next week though, you need help.”
I agreed with her, but I didn’t even pause to let her know this. I stood and with a glance at the largely unconcerned woman, I opened the door and stopped just short of running into Vivian. She stared at me for a moment, surprised, her hand raised to knock on the door.
“Oh,” she said, seeming to recover herself. “Sorry, I didn’t realise anyone was here.” She seemed to think about that for a moment before giving me a look I didn’t care to decipher.
I brushed past her and returned to my room, throwing all my clothes in a pile in the corner I lay down on the floor and fell asleep in moments. I dreamed of the therapist I had had to see when I was younger, a tall, thin, man who looked at me expectantly like I would start talking, but before anything could be said I realised that my mouth was sealed shut.
When it had actually happened I had felt like my mouth was sealed and so had said little, admitting nothing and confirming nothing and so I knew it was my fault that my life had continued its course. In my dream I felt it only fair that if I was not willing to speak I be unable to, but I woke clawing at my face.
It was two in the afternoon and I was hungry but I didn’t leave my room, again sitting against my bed and staring at a point on the wall. After a while I was certain that there was something distinct about this piece of wall but then I blinked and couldn’t find it again.
After a shower I felt more like going outside, but my hand stopped before touching the lock and I was stuck there. Not sure what my reluctance was I tried again, stopping just before the click that signified that I could go out.
Of course the reason I didn’t want to go out was, as ever, the people who were out there. Sure Karla had said that no one knew about me, that didn’t make it true. Maybe she told Vivian, maybe Vivian found out on her own or maybe she doesn’t even care why I was there at all and has told her sister where she saw me.
Maybe I didn’t need to worry and Vivian wasn’t a terrible person, maybe my parents had lied, and I knew that that was the case, maybe people were alright. But what if they weren’t? What if I went out there and people knew about me again?
I couldn’t deal with that.
It felt odd being clothed in my room, but I stayed that way this time, as I sat at my desk and opened another textbook. I was nearly through with the material the teachers had given me to catch up on, so I felt I ought to do it.
From time to time I considered getting up and trying the doors again, but I had no more faith in the people out there than I had had the last time I tried the door. I had no reason to go out, and no desire to, not yet.
I was staring at the wall again when the time came that I wanted to go out, at around nine thirty every night for the past week I had gone for a walk with Marie in the woods. I wanted to go for a walk with Marie, I wanted to go for a walk at all. I wanted to go outside.
My hand hovered on the lock and I wondered if Vivian had told Marie, wondered if Marie would even be there. But like when my fear came the image of my parents’ coffins burning was what calmed me, this time in my paranoia the image of Marie’s smile calmed me. Even if her sister had told her I had been with the counsellor she wouldn’t care.
Marie smiled when her torch beam passed over me and held the gate open, easing it shut behind us and walking beside me in silence. It seemed like during the week we had spent together she had begun to speak less, she seemed to be enjoying it too. Best of all, she didn’t know. Her sister had told her nothing of our encounter earlier in the day, I could see it the moment I laid eyes on her.
I couldn’t help the smile on my face as we walked, shoulders almost touching, in silence and darkness and for once it didn’t bother me. My heart didn’t race, my blood didn’t beat in my ears, my throat didn’t seize, my breath didn’t come faster. I was smiling because I was happy, that wasn’t unreasonable.
As usual she left me at my door and I watched her walk down the hall to her own, but this time before she got there the door opened and Vivian came out. Marie looked surprised, she had told me that her sister was usually asleep by the time she got back from our walk.
Vivian fairly ignored her sister, instead approaching me and now I felt fear grasp me, my heart beating harder in my chest. She stopped before me and opened her mouth as if to speak before stopping and glancing over her shoulder at Marie.
She leaned close and I felt her breath on my ear when she whispered. “I’m not going to tell anyone.”
I was taken aback, I had assumed that she didn’t like me because of the way she tended to look at me suspiciously when I was with her sister, and so I was surprised. Immediately I wanted to apologise, wanted to thank her, but I couldn’t make myself speak, so I made do. I smiled at her and it was her turn to seem taken aback.
Vivian gave me the same look she had earlier and returned to her room. Marie watched the whole thing with confusion, following her sister inside with a last glance at me. I wondered if there was an expression that would ease her confusion, but I didn’t know what it was that confused her.
I locked the door, pulled off all my clothes, lay down on the comfortable bed and went to sleep.
To say I slept poorly would be inaccurate, I did not sleep at all. I sat on the floor with my back against the bed and I thought about Marie. To the best of my recollection, perfect, she was the first girl my own age who had ever been nice to me. She was the first person whose reaction to me I much cared about.
Certainly I had cared about how my parents reacted around me but to say that they reacted to me wouldn’t be quite right. They reacted to whatever it was that inhabited their minds along with what made up a normal person.
Despite having had no sleep I wasn’t tired when my alarm sounded, not managing to surprise me this time. I stood and showered and went down stairs, still wearing my hoodie and jeans from the previous day.
This time I didn’t watch Vivian pass me on the stairs, barely even noticed her go by, my mind so focused on her sister. But she noticed me, possibly I commanded her attention more than I had the previous day, it just didn’t matter.
Marie was already in the dining hall, sitting at a table with the girl she had sat with the previous day. For a long moment I convinced myself that she wouldn’t want me to sit with her, that I should just go sit by myself as I always did. But then she spotted me and smiled again, her genuine smile, and waved me over.
I sat down next to her and earned myself a quizzical look from the girl across from us. “This’d be the new girl then?” she asked Marie.
“Oh,” Marie looked surprised. “I keep forgetting you’re older than me. This is Alice. Alice, this is my friend Kerry.”
“Nice to meet you,” Kerry offered her hand across the table.
I nodded and did my little fake smile and shook her hand.
“She doesn’t talk?” Kerry raised an eyebrow at her friend.
“Not so far,” Marie shrugged. “Either she will when she’s ready or it’ll turn out that she’s mute and you’ll never know what she’s thinking.”
“I don’t appreciate that,” Kerry gave the younger girl a stern look before smiling and I wondered what they were talking about.
They were silent once the food came and they both seemed to finish at the same time as the invisible signal to go to class happened. I was still unclear on what the signal was, but everyone was getting up and going to class so I figured I should do the same.
At the school building Kerry went the other way down the hall to us and I only remembered that I had a locker and had used it to store my books when Marie stopped at her own. I was surprised when Marie sat with me behind the class, where I had sat the previous day, instead of with her sister as she had the previous day. As apparently was her sister.
Even though neither us said a word that day I enjoyed school far more than I ever had previously. Of course I had been home schooled most of my life up until that point. We sat with Kerry again at lunch and the two of them recounted their experience of class up to the point in the day and again I had no idea what they were talking about.
Regardless of whether or not I followed the conversation I certainly enjoyed it, Marie and Kerry were good friends and they smiled easily at one another and laughed in each other’s company. I had never in my life had such a person, but here I might.
I enjoyed sitting beside Marie and watching her puzzle at maths and I enjoyed sitting in a classroom with people who knew nothing but my name and my age. That day I enjoyed that school, not bored or feeling isolated, I was part of things, if only a small part. But a small part was more than I ever had been before.
After school, or at least after the classes, sports teams practiced, which I hadn’t known about. Marie and I sat in the shade of a tree and watched the softball team practice, Kerry was part of the team and Marie apparently watched her practice twice a week. Kerry was very good at hitting, she was very intense as she held the bat, but she wasn’t great at pitching, not strong enough. As far as I could see she had very good hand-eye co-ordination.
The school had numerous different fields for different sports. They had a field for softball and possibly baseball though Marie informed me that there was no baseball team. There was a field for football, which doubled as a field for any sport that used a rectangular court and there were tennis courts way at the back. There was even a running track, from where Vivian watched me with her sister.
“Don’t worry about my sister,” Marie waved to the girl in question, pointedly. “She’s a little protective.”
“Hey new girl,” the girl was tall, really tall, and wore cream coloured shorts and a blue t-shirt stained with sweat, long dark skinned legs led into bright pink sneakers and her white teeth showed in a smile on her face. “You want to try?” She held a softball bat out to me and I wondered if a baseball bat and a softball bat were the same thing.
I’m not sure why, but I glanced at Marie as I thought about it and my intent must had been misconstrued. “I don’t mind,” she assured me. “I usually sit here by myself anyway.”
“We call her lonely Marie,” the tall girl informed me, grinning.
I didn’t know how to tell them that that wasn’t why I had looked at her without speaking, and I still wasn’t speaking, so I stood and nodded, taking the bat she offered me. I didn’t have much interest in the sport, but I’d never played sports, or seen much of them, before, so what did I know? The main reason I agreed was because I hadn’t ever played sports, regardless of my interest in them I ought to play them at some point. Or so I thought.
“You ever played before?” the tall girl asked, gesturing at a younger girl to come over.
I shook my head.
“This is Lea,” the tall girl told me. “She’s a slow pitch, you should be alright.”
“Real encouraging that is,” Lea gave the older girl a dark look and tossed the ball she had been holding into the air, catching it with her other hand. “At this rate I’ll never be good at anything, scarred for life.”
I don’t know that I visibly reacted to that but they both looked at me like I had just burst out crying or something. “Sorry,” Lea gave me a half-hearted reassuring smile. “Shall we start?”
I nodded, pushing thoughts of my past from my mind.
“Right right, back up,” the tall girl instructed Lea. “Copy me… I just realised I don’t know your name, I’m Diana, though you can call me Steven.”
For a moment I panicked, still unwilling to speak. “She’s Alice,” Kerry’s voice informed them, punctuated by the sound of her metal bat colliding with a ball. “Has yet to speak.”
“Must be a pain,” Lea called. “Can’t know what’s on her mind.”
“I don’t appreciate that,” Kerry turned back to what she was doing and missed the next ball that came at her with a scowl.
“Anyway, Alice, copy me,” Diana instructed, taking up a stance with her legs spread and her shoulders straight.
I did my best to imitate her and started, almost falling, when a large hand placed a larger helmet on my head. I turned to find Karla, giving Diana a look of disapproval. “Helmet up,” she called to the team. “Diana…” she said this quieter and the girl’s shoulders dropped as she followed the woman from the field.
Lea watched the pair go with affection for the tall girl and admiration for the woman before turning back to me. “Alright, bat up, I’ll try a slow pitch,” she said, gesturing to me to lift my elbows. “You don’t have to swing if you don’t want, just remember that it isn’t going to hit you.”
I nodded and tilted my head back so that the rim of the helmet lifted out of my vision. With a slow wind up the girl pitched at me and I watched it get closer and closer, trying to keep it in my mind that it would not hit me and I need not fear.
But of course this wasn’t the first time something had been thrown at me and I couldn’t help but step out of the way as the ball missed where I had been standing by enough distance that I could have hit it if I’d liked. The thing was that I’d known it wouldn’t hit me, I could see that for myself even without her assurance, that wasn’t why I moved.
I moved because I recalled having things thrown at me, it scared me just like smiling genuinely in public or talking to people on my own did. It frightened me just like enjoying myself and being comfortable frightened me.
Lea didn’t say anything and for some reason I had the impression that she knew that there was nothing that she could have said. No one else said anything but as far as I could see no one else was looking at us.
The other girl relaxed her stance and approached me slowly, another ball still in her hands. She reached out and took first the bat and then the helmet. “Maybe it isn’t for you,” she suggested quietly. “No need to feel bad about it.”
And I believed her, there was no need to feel bad about it, even if she was a little disappointed, even if I had failed at something. There was no need for me to be concerned about it because it was normal to be unable to do things, normal to not always be able to speak of it.
I sat back down in the shade beside Marie, not quite so close as before, and watched the space between myself and those who were enjoying themselves. Marie didn’t ask what had happened, didn’t speak at all, and after a little while, I got up and went back to my room, locking the door behind me.
With a sigh I stripped and lay down on the floor with my pillow under my head and stared up at the ceiling and wondered if there was anyone up there. I wondered if there was anyone below me, but I knew already that there was no one there, no one within three rooms of me, no one to hear me or share my space.
I was all alone.
With that comforting thought in my mind I fell asleep.
It was nine forty three when I woke and for a moment I wondered what had happened, why was I on the floor? Where was I? Who was I? When was I? Why had I bothered waking at all? But swiftly the memories came back and I leapt to my feet and pulled my clothes on.
Marie leant against the arch in which the gate was set, torch sweeping the school grounds before her, and I wondered that she’d waited for me, and how long she had waited. She didn’t look like she had been there long, she didn’t look impatient either, waving the torch around.
She smiled and opened the gate, going through ahead of me and I followed, wincing as the gate clanged resoundingly shut behind us. For a few steps I walked behind her, eyes pointedly raised, before she turned and let me catch up to her. She smiled again and we walked side by side into the dark trees.
So sorry to have posted nothing for the last three weeks or so, but I managed to enroll in a new course and it started way earlier than I expected it to (three weeks ago, uncoincidentally) so there, have an excuse. I’ll post something later today and hopefully I will manage to get a more regular post schedule for a while.
My first day started with a surprise, an alarm going off at eight in the morning. It came from the clock on my bedside table, which I hadn’t known was set. The noise was loud and jarring and it made my head ache, again I had had less than five hours of sleep.
With a groan I pulled over the bedside table and swatted at the clock until it shut up.
I stumbled into the bathroom and turned on the shower as cold as it would go, startling myself awake. I turned on the warm water and cleaned myself as thoroughly as I could manage with the amenities provided.
Running a hand through my damp hair, longer than it had ever been, I wondered what I should do with it, what I should do at all. With a glance at my laptop, off now, I figured I would just do whatever I wanted to.
I pulled on some pants and my hoodie and, stretching out my back, sore from two nights on the floor, I opened the door to my bedroom and started down the stairs. Breakfast came at eight thirty, apparently, and I was curious what it would be.
Vivian passed me on the stairs, going up, she was wearing a grey t-shirt and bright orange shorts that were about the same size as the boxers I wore. She was all sweaty and panted as she jogged past with a flash of white teeth. I turned to watch her go up the stairs, appreciating the view until she glanced back at me with a surprised look and I turned away.
The dining hall was, of course, far from filled, but nearly everyone was there already, one hundred and four girls of varying ages, nine teachers, all women, and the sisters who I was fairly sure ran the place. Everyone was sitting fairly near the door and most of the massive room was empty. I took a seat at an empty table, which was noted by just about everyone else in the room, though most appeared not to care.
I noticed Marie not that far away, sitting at a table with another girl who looked to be a year older than me and Marie. She gave me a slightly more friendly half-smile when she saw me and I did my very best to make my baring of teeth at least a little friendly. She was wearing a black t-shirt with words on it in white and a pair of loose black pants and I flashed to numerous different images which composited into an image of the girl naked and turned away, blushing. My heart sped up and I looked around a moment before the image of the coffins tipping into the fire returned and I calmed.
With no obvious signal some more women, possibly cooks or something like that, brought around trays, handing them out to all the girls sitting around the tables. They even put trays down at some places where no one was sitting.
On the tray were two pieces of toast, an egg, two rashers of bacon and a grilled tomato. I stared at it a long moment, real food, and dug in greedily. Having not had any dinner the previous day in favour of what I had been doing locked in my room naked with an unsupervised internet connection, I was just as hungry as I ever was, my overindulgence of the previous morning forgotten.
By the time breakfast was over, nine more students had turned up and one more teacher. Vivian’s hair dripped water onto her bright green t-shirt. In the room now were one hundred and thirteen girls and eighteen women, including the cooks, who ate with the teachers.
It was an almost novel feeling, being full, and it cheered me greatly in contrast to the caffeine pill and single piece of toast I was used to starting the day with. I even got a drink that was more interesting than water. I had had orange juice once previously and I enjoyed it greatly, to the interest of people nearby, who all seemed interested by the new arrival.
The reason that I cared what anyone nearby thought was because the last time I had come to a new school it had been when my parents had been institutionalised and everyone there had known about me. But no one gave me the looks I remembered getting, as far as I could see no one knew anything about me except that I was new and seemed to be enjoying breakfast more than most.
Again without any noticeable signal everyone rose from their seats, leaving the trays behind, and filed out of the room with little order or chaos. I surreptitiously followed Marie and her sister, assuming that I would be in the same classes as them, having no memory of what Karla had told me during the tour she had given.
We ended up in a room I recognised as being part of the tour. The teacher was waiting there even though I was fairly sure that the teachers had left the same time we had. She touched my arm lightly as I entered and I followed her from the doorway, standing awkwardly at the front of the class.
In the end there were fifteen girls in the class, excluding myself, including the twins. The teacher waited for them all to arrive before picking a bag of some sort off her desk and handing it to me. Within was a textbook, a workbook and a pencil.
“Class, this is Alice,” she informed the girls, who all seemed interested, “she is joining our class, please don’t hassle her.” She turned to me and spoke much quieter. “My name is Janice.” She smiled at me. “Find a seat anywhere you’d like.”
I nodded and turned from her, glancing over the room despite knowing the layout already. I chose a seat at the back of the class, but not the back of the room. The room had enough space for a class twice the size of the one that was already there and there were no tables at the back of the room, so I couldn’t sit there.
Barely waiting for me to open my books she launched into the class, which turned out to be maths.
I received identical treatment in my other classes that day, the teachers all introducing themselves to me and giving me a textbook, workbook and pencil. All the classes had the same people in them so I was not introduced to the class again.
There were two breaks during the day, which I recalled being told about, the first did not necessarily involve food, but if desired I could go to the dining hall and get something, and the second was for lunch, which took up about half the break.
I used the free time to look around the place.
As I recalled from the tour, the school building and dorm were both massive and largely unused. I found closets full of desks and tables that had gathered enough dust that I could see that hadn’t been used in years. I looked around the gym, where a surprising amount of the girls were spending time exercising or playing some kind of sport.
The grounds interested me, because the place did not fit with the forest around it, there were spots where trees had obviously been torn out of the ground and the walls seemed to hold nature at bay as if it were a plague to be kept out.
There was the front gate through which I had entered, closed and far too large for a single person, me, to open. But what I hadn’t known about were two other gates, much smaller, that led out of the school grounds into the woods. There were trails that led away from the school that I made note of as I enjoyed walking at night and there was a couple of fairly even grassy fields that I suspected were for sports.
Once classes were over I went back to my room, took off my hoodie and sat down at my desk opening the textbooks and the notes all the teachers had given me. They were lists of chapters and exercises from the books that I needed to catch up on.
I seriously considered getting started right that moment, then my laptop caught my eye and I figured that there was really no kind of hurry. None of the work was difficult, so maybe I had time to entertain myself a little before I need to get anything done.
Before I knew it the time was seven thirteen and I was reading an article about transistor weights, naked. I wasn’t totally sure at what point I had lost my pants, but the plain wood of the chair was surprisingly comfortable.
Dinner was spaghetti with meatballs and it was delicious, everything I ate here was delicious compared to what I had had to eat before. Everything tasted like food and there was no one to stop me from enjoying it.
I was able to enjoy myself unhindered as I had never been able to before. I could sit, cross legged and naked, at my desk, and do whatever I wanted with my computer. I could lie on a comfortable mattress and not be disturbed.
But I couldn’t do those things, no more than I could let myself actually express my emotions around people I didn’t know. I couldn’t do what I wanted, just like I couldn’t be confident outside of my room, outside of my space.
I sat on my bed, topless, with my legs crossed, and I thought about it. I didn’t want to think about it, but what I wanted had never been important. Maybe what I wanted ought to be important now, maybe what I wanted to do should be what I did.
The air was cold and the moment I was outside I knew I should have put on more clothes, I started shivering almost immediately but I could that I didn’t really care. I was going to go for a walk in the cold and the dark, I was going to do something I felt like doing. The gate was closed but not locked and it opened surprisingly quietly, without the ear piercing squeak I had expected.
It swung shut behind me with a loud clang and I started, heart beating faster a moment before it sank in that no one was following me. With an exhalation of breath that wasn’t quite a sigh but wasn’t quite not a sigh I started along the path…
My breathing came faster and my heart hammered in my ears. Someone was after me, my parents were coming to get me. A light flashed around me and a quiet voice drifted to my ears me. “I didn’t mean to startle you,” Marie assured me, quickly catching up. “Do you want to walk together?”
For a moment I considered, but I was doing what I wanted to do and I wanted to walk with her, so I nodded, shivering at the same time. She smiled, a real smile, and I couldn’t help but smile back and suddenly my heart was beating in my ears again but it wasn’t fear this time. What it was I had no idea.
She turned back to the path, torch illuminating the way before us and I blushed. My heart quieted in my ears but I did not calm. My breathing was faster than it should have been as I walked beside the girl, my heart hammered my ribcage.
Marie looked nervous as we walked, and I wondered if I looked the same. But I knew I was good at concealing my emotions so it was likely that I looked as close to calm as ever. We walked side by side, barely centimetres separating us, and I thought that maybe my nerves showed just as hers did.
The path was smooth and mostly level beneath my feet, leaving my mind free to wonder what was going on. Why was I embarrassed and happy at the same time? Why had I not been able to stop myself from smiling at her? Did she know where she was going?
She went left at the first fork in the road with the air of someone who had done this before, and often. The reason I followed had nothing to do with her confidence, but it was reassuring. I was a step behind her now, having hesitated where the road split, and I wondered how I could catch up inconspicuously.
But before I could implement any of the plans that came to me, Marie paused and glanced at me, letting me catch up. She gave me a little smile and of course I couldn’t help but smile back and my heart sped up again.
We walked in silence, she smiling and me breathing a little too fast and focusing on the memory of my parents’ coffins falling into the fire. We walked like that for a while before my breath started to come easier and my mind could focus on the world around me.
The walk took longer than I had been intending, nearly two hours. I was no longer too cold when we returned to the gate. It was nice to walk with Marie in silence, nice to do anything in silence, nice to walk with someone.
The gate clanged shut behind us and Marie glanced at me like she was about to say something, then she appeared to decide against it. She held the front door for me and we walked together up to our floor and stopped in front of my room.
“Do you want to walk together tomorrow?” she looked at me like she didn’t want me to know that my answer was important.
I smiled and nodded.