The transport vehicle stops at the corner. I get out and prepare to run, but, wonder of all wonders, no one is following me. They're still afraid. I saunter home.
My parents are waiting for me when I get there.
“Twilla, could you join us in the drawing room for a little chat?”
I go in and take a seat, unasked. My parents sit, looking uncomfortable. This room is as sterile as the school; the whole house is really. It feels like living in a hospital, only it smells better. Kara is wearing a slinky silver dress; going to another dinner party. Lewis is sporting his usual black suit, what remains of his hair slicked back, the bald patch freshly waxed.
“Twilla dear, we received a call from Ms.Satchet. She said that-” I interrupt Kara before she can get going.
“She said that I was to blame for a fight causing extensive injury to one committee member's son and many other students. She also stated that I would be relocated due to my newly developed status as a recalcitrant citizen. Transport will arrive tomorrow to transfer me to another world where I will be placed under the care of foster parents until adulthood and receive an allowance after the age of eighteen. I'm correct, am I not?” By this time I'm almost eager to be relocated, rushing through the basics and niceties so I can start packing early.
“Well... yes, that is what she said. Though I don't remember her saying it quite so... baldly. But, darling, we have contacts. You don't have to leave; the charges can be dropped with a few calls. In fact, your father and I have already drawn up a list of officials who owe us a debt. This can all disappear if you just promise not to roughhouse with the other children. So, what do you say pet, do you promise?” Lewis nods fervently behind Kara's back, making it plain that it would be best to agree with her.
“How should I put this? I have no desire to remain here, and I feel relocation would be the most, ah... prudent situation for us all.”
“I beg your pardon!”
“All right, lets try this. I have no want to stay here, and am very eager to leave. You won't miss me, nobody will. I will miss you as I would miss old acquaintances. As for charges being dropped, I would prefer it to be said that I left of my own free will and would like to have the option to communicate between worlds, though I doubt I actually would.” They just stare at me, openmouthed.
I knew that they wouldn't be able to understand my choice. Kara flounders for a few seconds more and then reclaims composure.
“Okay then, I guess this is goodbye.” Kara kisses me brusquely, followed by a hug from Lewis.
I quit the room and rush upstairs to pack. After pulling my traveling bags out of the closet I survey my room. Clothing first. I cross to my dresser, painted pink from childhood. Most of the space is occupied by my uniforms, so I take my few remaining outfits. Plain, nondescript, unremarkable garments. Next I move to my picture wall and begin the task of taking the pictures down, stacking them in a pile on my bed.
After that is done I go for my money stash. I've hidden it in the hollow leg of my roll top desk since I was five. Over the years the birthday checks have accumulated, spawning well over nine thousand in cash. None too shabby. I would have to exchange it for Mediaeval money, but the funds would be helpful when I no longer had a foster family to depend on.
Then there is nothing else. No knick-knacks, no valued possessions, nothing with sentimental value. The room is empty of any proof that I had ever lived there.
I sleep soundly, all the excitement of yesterday left me too exhausted for any nerves to interfere with my regular sleep cycle. Waking completely refreshed, I jump out of bed and get my things assembled. Today I leave, finally.
I drag my bags down the stairs, becoming happier with each thunk they make as they hit the steps. The sound of freedom.
Lewis is waiting for me in the hallway; Kara has already left for work. He offers me some breakfast, but I decline. We both wait for my departure in awkward silence. I study Lewis for the last time. My memories of him are few, mostly of seeing him in the background while Kara conducted some new event. He was quiet and jolly, like a balding Santa Clause of the old days. I remembered what Kara was like perfectly. She was always smiling and proper, artificial in everything. Her work was her life; Lewis being used as an ornament, me a pet for show.
The Transport Vehicle screeches to a halt at the end of the drive, stopping my thoughts abruptly. A blond, smiling woman steps out of the vehicle, her black high-heeled shoes reflecting the morning sun.
“Good day to y’all. My name is Cand-ay and I will be yo-ah guide tah-day.”
I wonder how she can say all of that while still smiling. Botox, I decide. Lewis greets her jovially; I just roll my eyes.
“May I take yo-ah bags for you?” She drawls in her southern accent.
I grab my luggage and haul it over to the waiting transport; she looked like a feather could make her topple over. The sight of her trying to handle my things would have been funny, but unproductive.
“Goodbye, Lewis.” I say rather stiffly. He stands there contemplating for a moment and then rushes over to hug me. After I've shaken him off, he smiles sheepishly and shuffles his feet while bidding farewell.
“Goodbye, Twilla. And remember,” He clears his throat in discomfort. “You can always come back, our doors will never be barred to you.”
“Thank you, Lewis.” The right side of my mouth twitches in an effort to smile.
I get in the Transport Vehicle followed by Candy; it is a small version of the vehicles used at school, minus the stains and mess. I stare out of the window, taking a last look at my old residence. Candy chatters away in the background, pointing out places that I have already seen, and I drift. I allow myself to bring forth the repressed memories, explore them for what I vow will be the very last time. Submersing myself in the past, I remember scenes from my days with Denny.
“My name is Denny, I'm five. What's your name?” A dirty boy with mud on his hands asks me on the first day of school.
“Twilla. I'm six and you smell.” He really does smell: like dirt and dog poo. It looks like he stepped in it.
“Yeah, my doggy Max went on the front porch again and it got all over my shoes. Wanna play?”
“No, I'd rather play with someone who doesn't smell. Besides, I don't like you and you're a boy.”
“What's wrong with boys?”
“Boys are yucky, of course. You are extra yucky; I think I hate you.” I skip off to find some girls my age. Girls that aren't yucky and don't have dog poo on them.
Later that day:
It is lunchtime and I am all alone. Those girls were stuck up and mean, just like I had been to Denny. I let a few tears leak out; all I had wanted was a friend.
“Why are you crying?” I look up to see a clean Denny standing by my side.
“Nobody likes me and I don't want to be alone.” I say as more salty water trickles out.
“I like you,” Denny says in confusion.
“But I was mean to you.”
“That's okay. I smelled bad. I would have done the same thing to you if you had smelled that much.” He smiles reassuringly and I give a tentative smile back.
“Can I sit here? The other boys don't like me so much either, but I don't really care.”
I nod and he sits down across from me, pulling a smooshed sandwich from his pocket. I open up my brand new lunch box; shiny lavender plastic with white flowers painted on it, and take out the contents. There is lots of food and I arrange it carefully: bottled water, a ham sandwich, an apple, toasted crackers, and a small bag of cookies. Denny looks sadly at his mess of gooey peanut butter and squashed bread, then begins to devour it. I eat carefully and neatly, not finishing even half of my spoils; Daddy had packed too much. I offer the rest to Denny and he takes it gratefully.
And that was how we had become friends. Now, fast-forwarding approximately seven years, I find myself visiting Denny for the first time after a two-month separation.
Denny looks much bigger than before, taller and wider. He has let his hair grow shaggy and it brushes my cheek as I hug him. I let go and find him looking very red and uncomfortable; has he grown out of my hugs?
“ Hey Twilla, you're back!”
We talk for a while about the events of the summer. Denny feels different to me, and our talk is more strained than usual. It's shortly time for me to go and I reach out to hug Denny like always.
“Uh, Twilla, I..... don't think you should um... hug me any more. See, it's sorta weird, what with me having a girlfriend now and all; I guess I just...uh... don't really think she would like it.... much. And stuff.” Denny looked at his feet, which were scuffing up the grass on the lawn, while he said this.
“Okay, but... I have to leave you after such a short time and I wanted to hug you. It was always all right before.... I'm really.... sorry. Look at you though! You're different, you've just, you know, changed since I left. I mean, you have a girlfriend!” My voice trembles audibly.
“Aw, Twilla, I haven't changed that much, please don't be sad.”
“What's happened Denny, why does it feel so different? I go to camp and when I come back you're not my Denny, you're the Denny of some girl I don't even know the name of. I thought things would be the same and-.” I'm crying by now, trying to hide my face behind my hair. Denny pats my shoulder awkwardly and I turn away; his comfort doesn't help now.
I feel tears on my cheeks and brush them away impatiently; the worst is still yet to come.
I wake up from my dream abruptly. It's still dark out; the sun won't rise for another few hours. The scene of yesterday runs through my head, tweaked in certain places to form my dream. In this vision Denny is not embarrassed, not changed in mind, and he does not shy away from my affection. He is the exact opposite. And I know it is wrong, as I imagine him holding me close, kissing me in a very non-platonic way. Yet what is worse is that I enjoy the kiss, the love I feel emanating from him; I enjoy this not only in sleep, but in consciousness too. I had thought before of becoming more than friends with Denny, but each time I recoiled, shuddering in disgust at the mere thought of such an action.
Now that has all changed. One nights stupid dreaming and my whole outlook on our relationship has done a complete three-sixty. The torment of discovery is nearly worse than the ache of unrequited love. Nearly.
My adoration for Denny lasted through the years, though he knew nothing of my heartache. Denny became quite popular with the female Gazers, a real ladies man. And through it all I'm there, in the background. I'm the perpetually cheery best friend, my gentle, comforting attitude reserved for tough breakups and disappointing report cards. I endured the raw pain of unintentional rejection silently, feeling it unwise to enlighten Denny and therefore jeopardize our friendship.
Denny helped me through the depression of not having a Vision when all the other Gazers had, assuring me that it would happen eventually. That is, he was supportive until he realized that there would be no Visions for me.
I walk down the aisle of the Transport Vehicle searching for Denny. It's the first day of school again. I am not looking forward to it. I still haven't had a single Vision yet, and my fifteenth birthday was over two months ago. Am I doomed?
I find Denny sitting with his newest conquest. The pretty blond Gazer glares at me and tosses her long hair in dismissal. Denny bites his lip and shrugs. I stomp to the back of the vehicle and sit in the only seat left. Gum, graffiti and vomit stains. Lovely. It feels as if every Gazer near me is edging silently away from my Visionless body, and I hope I'm just paranoid. The problem is, I know I'm not.
I walk to my next class quickly, dodging and darting around others. The Gazers had gotten over their fear of my “cooties” during period two, when one tossed a crumpled piece of paper at my head while the teacher wasn't looking. This soon became a fun little game for them. The teacher, of course, only noticed the paper missals at the end of class, ordering me to clean up my mess. My mess. I was still finding little bits of the stuff in my hair.
I made it to last period in time to snag one of the ever-popular back row seats. I thought about lunch and how Denny had studiously ignored me. I had to admit, I was hurt. And pissed. I understood it when he showed preference for his girlfriend of the day, but ignoring me was inexcusable. He was going to have some major groveling to do.
Denny walks in and I have to harden my resolve. He sits in a seat close to mine, a few chairs to the right, and I do my best to pretend he's not there, or at least make him think that I don't notice him.
This class is a study hall, and the teacher is soon snoring at his desk. The paper has been replaced by leftover cafeteria food. Mostly they miss, but someone on my right has very good aim with their tomatoes from the salad bar.
“Wow Denny, you are, like, sooo good at that! Oh! Let me wipe that off for you.” Squeals a high-pitched voice. I look over to see the blonde Gazer from the Transport Vehicle clinging to Denny and wiping something red off of his arm.
I see tomato juice and my heart turns to ice.
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