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By Alaska Everfall
PUBLISHED BY: Alaska Everfall
Sleepless Beauty Copyright © 2011 by Alaska Everfall
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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
I hope you enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
To find out more about me, just visit my blog at: http://justremy.blogspot.com
TO MY GRANDMOTHER, For sharing the love of literature within our genes.
She smirked at me. Sometimes, I felt this was all Tia did. Although, she was only eight years old, two years older than me, she craved my loyalty. But the worst thing was, I’d give it to her unconditionally. She patted my head with her rough hands, just like a toddler would to their doll, or rather, prey. “Jane, did you know that if you stay up during the night, your dad will come back to you?” she whispered, her eyes glinting. A frown crossed my face. “I don’t believe you.” Tia sighed, as if explaining the same concept to a kindergartner, over and over again. Which is quite ironic, because that was exactly what I was? “You know how dark it is outside? And sometimes you can see shadows?” “Yeah…” “Your father’s one of them. You just need to stay awake to see them.” For the next three weeks, because this is how long Tia stayed at my house, I stayed up all night with her. Mum was a deep-sleeper, giving us more courage to continue the search. Tia claimed my father was among the shadows somewhere, but we could never see him. It was then I used to think to myself, what was he so afraid of? At only six years of age, the mere thing I knew was how young my mother was when I was born. Sixteen years old was a very young age to get pregnant –at least, that’s what everybody around me said, anyway. Was he afraid my mother would hit him for calling the fairies to deliver me? But why would my mum be so heartless? After all, the beautiful fairies must’ve calmed her down and gave her inner-peace, wouldn’t they? After four weeks, because my cousin only came to visit, she and her mother rushed back to Adelaide. Except, I wasn’t the same Jane she met once upon a time. One week, according to scientific research, was enough to start a bad habit. So imagine how four weeks with a maximum of four hours to sleep could damage me. As the years passed, a lot of things changed. I soon gave up scribbling with crayons and took an interest in drama. The truth about babies was a shock, and I couldn’t help wishing the "fairy theory" was true. Never again did I let Tia boss me around -I began to rule my own life, friends and education.
But insomnia never left me. Not for a second.
Avril waves her hands in the air, surprisingly surviving another chocolate-covered chicken nugget. Both Sebastian and I are holding our sides with elbows and biting the skin of our wrists, attempting not to burst out into fits of hysterical laughter. It’s amazing how a dare causes ordinary people to do abnormal stunts. Avril has always been a daredevil -I have convinced myself it’s the way she’d die. My best friend would have a funeral in the middle of one of the forests in Africa, where the lions eat the living dead, letting us take full responsibility of her slim body. Her bracelet which once was her favourite possession that came from her deceased grandmother. Her eyelids shut upon the hazel eyes she inherited from her mother. And then she'll wake up and yell out, "Gotcha!" -she's just that epic. “Okay. That’s it. Shut it, both of you!” she says scornfully before turning to me, narrowing her eyes. “Jane, if your mother had the slightest clue you were sleeping over at my place with–” She pauses, giving Sebastian a deathly glare; the type which would make Adolf Hitler wilt away in shame. “–A boy in the same room, you’d be beyond dead.” Sebastian absorbs most of my discomfort and begins waving his arms in the air in a triumphant way, screaming, “Ooh. Our little girl is learning to grow up.” He winks at me, wiggling his eyebrows like crazy. My eyes tempt to roll skyward at his failed attempt at flirting. It’s amazing how he escaped his room stealthily, heading out the front door without attracting any suspicion at all. And then finally making his way through Avril’s bedroom window without her mum noticing something was wrong upstairs. Of course, screaming about my rebellious stunts aren’t helping our so-called “secret” meeting; one which Avril's deep-sleeping mother has no knowledge of. My acting buddy realises this fact instantly, pressing a finger to her lips whilst Sebastian folds his arms over his chest, defensively muttering about alien abductions. Avril begins complaining about her life, possibly trying to forget the love of her life had winked at me a second ago. Sebastian only does these flirting gestures around Avril to annoy her, but his naïve-self still hasn’t recognised just how much his gestures irritate her. Every so often, I’d be tempted to tell him exactly what I thought of his ignorant flirting style, but I would quickly decide against the idea. I’d much rather him head home without awkwardness with my best guy-friend.
Secretly, I wonder if he’s ever noticed the massive crush my best friend has on him, but to which she’d never admit. A flick of his sandy brown hair and merely pushing down his round spectacles, revealing the glass-blue eyes underneath, would drive her insane. Insanely in love, that is. Again, I inquire the same piece of detail over: Does he have the slightest clue? Watching him unselfconsciously pick earwax and lick his finger, his face coiling up in disgust, answers my question. Making a face, Avril picks up a single corn chip with her red-painted nails, munching it and trying to taste the extra calories. One of the strange things about my best friend; she thinks she can taste calories, just like she can magically “feel” the loss of weight the minute it disappears from her waistline. She’s –probably– wonders what she has possibly done to deserve such bad taste in boys. Sebastian wipes his finger on his broad shorts, while I shake my head in shame. That makes two of us. “So, how are the finals for hockey, Janie?” Sebastian grins, because as I haven’t slapped him on the arm, he got away with calling me by my real name. “I mean, I heard you guys got stepped on so bad.” I toss a handful of corn chips at him, which he skillfully dodges (much to my disgust), with a duck of his head. “We weren’t that bad. And anyway, didn’t this happen six months ago? It’s summer. The furthest away from hockey season you can get.” “Yeah, yeah. School is gonna be out one week from now. And somehow, they expect us to celebrate Christmas in summer.” He shakes his head, oblivious to how he completely changed the subject. Sebastian had lived in America for three years before moving here, and although he’s lived in Australia for an equal amount of time, the seasons are still difficult for him to comprehend. I pick up a corn chip and stuff it in my mouth, savouring every bite. The sudden vagary of pulling on Avril’s russet hair appeals to me, because although her real hair colour is a dark brown, she dyed a layer of red on top. As if reading my thoughts, she scowls at me; pulling a couple strands of her reddish-brownish hair behind her shoulder. I sit next to her, waiting for her mother to come charging inside, demanding I exit her house. Carelessly, my best friend spills some of her lemonade on the play script.
“Oh, copper-popsicle-sticks!” she exclaims, while Sebastian raises his eyebrow quizzically. Avril truly does have the strangest curses. “Jane, please tell me you can, you can still read it!” Her words come out in a blur, and it takes me a moment to decode her obfuscate statement, “Gosh, I’m so sorry!” “Quit worrying,” I say with a laugh, picking up the damp bundle of paper. “I pretty much have it memorized.” “In that case, you,” Avril begins in her posh tone, “can show us your palatial acting skills.” She exaggerates on the word “palatial” as if trying to prove how extensive her vocabulary is, while I simply roll my eyes. She claps her hands impatiently. “I’m sixteen years old, Jane. I’m not getting any younger.” “I can see that,” Sebastian states, tapping her on the forehead and resulting in Avril flinching away. Although secretly, I can tell she's yelling, "Oh my gosh, he touched my forehead!" on the inside. How romantic. “You already have wrinkles. It’s only a matter of time before you switch that lemonade for a tea.” With that, he ducks a pillow thrown at him by my best friend. So I stand up in front of them -my floral designed t-shirt and my jeans. Mum didn’t expect me to sleep anywhere, let alone have a boy in the same room. My skin, though lighter than most Bengali people but darker than the British, reflects strongly against the dim light. When I stand in front of them, I begin to read out my lines. “I, the helpless Audia, must help somebody in need.” I point at Avril who’s playing the part of the thirteenth fairy –or witch. “Oh, my dear old lady, do you require assistance for the spinning wheel?” “My dear Audia, of course I do. Merely, I must ask you to spin the thread for you, if it’s not too difficult for you, my royal highness.” “Surely, I’ll complete this task for you.” But instead of pricking my finger on the threading wheel, the fairy stashes a knife through my brain. Well, at least Avril pretends to do so. We wrote the whole script ourselves, keeping the whole idea of the thirteenth fairy, but changed almost everything else. The fairy’s knife dexterously cut a certain part of my brain, a very minor part with her magic. Her wizardry powers cause a great astonishment to Audia, and though she’s alive and well, the thirteenth fairy has cut off her sleeping habits. “And from now on, the minute a prince declares his true love to you, sleeping is out of the question for you.” She pauses, an evil smile playing on her lips. “My dear.” With the cackling laugh every evil person in movies, plays or even books uses, she vanishes.
Princess Audia is left alone, sobbing to herself and awaiting the approval of a handsome prince. This is where a boy -who we haven’t yet chosen- would march in and fall in love with Audia’s unnaturally sarcastic attitude, seeing as he has no charm himself. The whole school is awaiting the production. Not that we have much of a high-school in first place, because there are barely thirty people. Moving here, possibly one of the smallest towns in Australia, from somewhere bright and flashy must be a challenge to accept for some people -and accepted by a minority. Avril still hasn’t written the entire script yet; just a rough draft. But she doesn’t want us practicing the rough copy in case we mix it up with the real lines. Meaning, the only lines we practice are the ones which Avril confirmed to include in the final copy. But before anything, we need to plan a way to gather a prince towards the play. Anybody who has once lied to a teacher without getting caught would do for the part, even if they aren’t perfect. But no boys are willing to give up their football-playing hours for some school play, while almost every girl in the school showed up for auditions. If this crisis continues, we may just have to use a girl to play the part of the prince. But we’re continuing to fight through this –waiting for the perfect gentleman to magically appear and take the role. Will it happen? There’s an even chance of a boy showing up as there is for a girl being forced to take the role. Either way, as long as the show goes on, we’re both happy. Sebastian wouldn’t be caught dead in a school play. His face goes scarlet and he laughs like a kookaburra when he’s lying or acting. Instead, he’s playing the guitar for the background music. According to Avril, he’s already a virtuoso, but then again, she’s the one with an impossible liking towards him. “Okay, I’m going to the kitchen to get something to eat besides corn chips, okay?” Before Avril snaps at him for being hungry every second of the day, and I scold him for using the word “okay” twice in the same line of dialogue, he vanishes. We both sit in silence, staring at our script; the same script which is now wet. But it doesn’t matter, seeing as my best friend has another copy on her computer. These are the advantages of having very organised friends, because unlike me, they’re always thinking about the future. Whereas I have no clue what we’re having for supper tonight. One of these days, I’ll begin to think ahead like all other organized people. Maybe I’ll fool some of my future colleagues into mistaking me for a reliable person. But until then, messy and disorganized is my charm.
“So, you gonna admit your true love to Sebastian?” I teased, poking her in the ribs. Avril pokes right back, mocking fury in her expression. She can somehow change emotions according to her eyes, meaning she can be upset about something, yet show happiness. Besides being the most organized freak I’ve ever met, she's a brilliant liar. One of the best actually. “For the last time, Jane, I’m never going to admit my true love to him.” Her eyes scan vividly around the room, as if she can’t believe what she said, and wants me to forget about it also. Not happening. I merely gaze at her in shock. Did she just say that she has true love for him, but is reluctant to admit it? If possible, my jaw drops lower than ever before. “Alright, that’s it. If you don’t close that mouth right now, I might have to slap you. I do not love him.” “Love who?” Sebastian strolls into the room in a carefree matter, munching on a handful of popcorn he got from God-knows-where. I don’t ask him, just in case he replies with the simple dialogue exchange of, “The trashcan.” “Lucas Trombol,” my best friend replies without a lying edge in her voice. This is what I mean when I say she’s magnificent with lies. “He’s in my Spanish class.” A smile plays upon Sebastian lips. “We don’t have Spanish; Just German.” I imagine how Avril must be hitting her head with a hammer internally. Somehow, I don’t blame her. That was a very careless mistake to make –she’s referring to our schedule last year as Year Nine students. But since I’m her best friend, I’m going to save her. “Fine, you caught us. We were talking about my new next-door neighbour. It’s a boy, our age.” My best friend’s ears perk up at this, confused, but doesn’t show it on her poker-face. “Yup, exactly what she said.” “His name’s Rover or Trevor, or something like that,” I continue. This isn’t a lie. We truly do have new neighbours moving in our next door, but I’m not too ecstatic. Their only son, as Mum claims, is my age and she also added a name with the description. Apparently, they have a daughter, too, but she’s nowhere near my age. “I don’t know, really. He just has an ‘r’ in his name.” “River?” Sebastian says in a very quiet whisper, gulping at the same time. Avril swallows a mouthful of spit.
Normally, I'd be thinking, Wow, a name like River? What is he, a stream of water? And then I'd be making zillions of personalities which match his name: he’s either very easy-going, like water, or very introverted -like water stuck in a dam. But a normal situation doesn't revolve around both my best friends gawking as if they've seen Santa with their own eyes. What’s their problem? Instead, I reply with an enthusiastic nod of my head. Both of their eyes grow wide, but neither of dare to utter a single word. Almost as if purposely avoiding my question altogether, my second-best-friend changes the subject to something so random, it’s impossible to track back to the previous debating subject. Avril laughs along with him, acting all natural as if she wasn’t frozen stiff a second ago. I have a really bad feeling about these new neighbours of mine.
The sound of the phone ringing wakes me. Stifling a yawn, I walk downstairs to answer it. Although, Mum’s in the kitchen, two meters away from the telephone, the ringing doesn't separate her from her cooking. Supernatural hearing must fall under the advantages insomnia. I’m happy with friends who care about me and are perfect at most things. Other than making new friends -for me, it's a major step to befriend a stranger. It's even on my "list of things to accomplish." There's something about me which repulses people instantly. Something which went wrong in the last year, because I was capable of making friends before moving to this town. I'm thankful for my life; nothing can ruin it. Except not being able to sleep, but nobody is one-hundred percent flawless. Of course, this refers to what people see on the outside. Internally, I’m selfish, stubborn and completely spoiled. Egoistic and very ignorant of the most obvious things. I pick up the phone, waiting for the person on the other end to reply first. It has become a habit I can’t control; I adore it when people can’t hear ringing, but no voice transfers through the line, either. It panics them for a minute; gets their heart racing at full speed. “Hello?” an unexpectedly calm voice inquires, almost appearing bored. Of course, it’s Avril. She has been putting up with my strange longings for almost a year to be surprised. “Hey, Av! How’re you?” “I’m perfectly good. My brother’s come home from university and driving Mum mad by claiming he’s on drugs.” She stops to snicker, holding the receiver up so I hear her mother shouting, and Noah yelling back comebacks. “Gosh, Jane. You’re so lucky you’re an only child. I hate my life.” “Aw, I hate your life as well,” I reply, not giving her the typical, “I hate my life too” response she desires. “Because you can’t see me, I’m gonna tell you I’m rolling my eyes. Oh, and do you know Opal’s Bookstore? The one that's relocating? They’re having their sale, right now. I’ll meet you down there in five.” The phone hangs up, the monotone of the telephone buzzing in my ear.
That’s Avril; doesn’t bother about people’s opinions, nor does she worry about leaving little information of one of her "fantastic" ideas. Just facts, like she has her entire future planned out in front of her. But this is a wonderful advantage for playwrights like her, right? Ignoring the rhetorical question I asked myself, I stroll to the kitchen where Mum is humming a merry tune, her dark curls flying in all directions. “Mum, can I head over to the bookstore? They’re having that clearance today.” She spins around, looking at me with raised eyebrows. “Sure. Just don’t spend too long there, or you’ll look like a fish out of water.” She revolves back to her scrumptious cooking, also known as my dinner. Mum and her similes; inseparable. Pulling on a pair of jeans and a loose t-shirt, brushing my teeth, combing my hair and gulping down cornflakes with a glass of orange juice, I race out of the plain white front door. The front-yard awaits me, the gnome my dad bought for Mum on her twenty-third birthday sits patiently on the mowed grass, watching my every move with its beady eyes. Cautiously, I narrow my eyes before side-stepping out of the gate and heading toward the bookstore with a racing heart. No, its eyes aren’t on me anymore, but I feel it burning into the back of my neck, ready to bite if my feet hesitate to move. This was what Sebastian meant when stating I watch too many horror films during my insomniac nights. In a matter of minutes, I find myself outside the bookstore. I stand with my head held high to watch. The whole town -well, the population liking books- gathers in front of me, standing on their tiptoes or climbing on an unsuspecting stranger’s back. I don't have to pull off so many random stunts, to my relief. Being tall helps stops a random person from screaming, "You broke my back!" while the back-breaker-ee shrugs uncomfortably. “Okay, everyone. Settle down, settle down,” orders a skinny man with braces at the front, appearing almost weary. “Opal's Bookstore is having their massive clearance today,” he says matter-of-factly, as if the people in the line didn’t know why they were screaming and jumping. “Please enter with caution and care. Any damaged products will need to be paid off.” The glass double doors open, and like I predicted, the room was charged into with people resembling a herd of cows. Sounds of tiny, scampering feet of toddlers and children, to the tapping walking sticks of elderly people. I stroll through the shop, poking my head higher than it already is to search for Avril’s perfect curls.
Feeling like a miserable failure, I sigh and find a book cover capturing my attention in front of me. People burst past me, running towards their areas of interest and leaving me behind in the dust. Finally the time comes when nobody is in the aisle to interrupt me; therefore, I take a closer examination at the book. “Insomnia: Tips & Tricks on How to Avoid It” Feeling almost as if the book was calling me, I reached out to grab it. My fingers barely brush over the coversurface when a pale hand reaches out and grabs the novel before I get a closer look at the front-picture. “Sorry, I need this.” It’s my next door neighbour’s son, his hair brushed back as neatly as possible. Is it Trevor or Rover? Oh wait, it’s River. “Urgently.” “Whoa, hold it right there,” I begin, wrapping my fingers around his wrist to halt him on the spot. “I got the book fair in square, don’t you think? I touched it first.” “Oh, I’m sorry,” he begins with sarcasm. “Maybe after I buy it, we can continue discussing this subject?” His tone is flawless and posh enough for me to throw a book at his face. Well, imagine the incident in my head, anyway. After all, isn’t that what books are for besides reading? “I don’t think so.” “Then, you leave me no choice.” The most unbelievable incident happens, within the next three seconds. One second, he’s lunging forward to attack me, the next his mouth is close to my arm, and the third, his teeth rip through my flesh. With a cry of pain (well, mostly shock), I lose my minor grip I managed to hold. He snatches the book and dashes toward the counter, yelling an apology. But I’m far too concerned about being infected with rabies than anything else. With a range of insulting curses floating around my head, I clench my teeth and head outside in the bright daylight. I’d just have to explain the situation to Avril and why I didn’t bother searching for her when there’s a human-biting reptile on the loose. Certainly, she will forgive me, comprehending the situation; she always does. Now I have to estimate what kind of Person River is. Biting somebody is clearly not a good start to a relationship. Surely, not all strangers have first impressions as spontaneous as his? If so, the world would be filled with isolated people -and plenty of antiseptic cream to pass around. He's clearly bold and shameless. His name doesn't really match with the kind of person I thought he was.
Clearly, he's a river who can break dams -or under another light, "break the ice." Especially seeing as how ripping flesh out of a stranger causes more outrage than awkwardness. It's obvious he's one of my theories; I'm always right, aren't I? The sun is bright enough for me to shield my eyes as I saunter over to the park, which is right beside the shopping centre. Nobody sits on the single swing. Perfect. With hesitant steps toward the swing, I reach my ambition as I remain seated, throwing my dangling legs into the air and feeling the rush of wind through my mid-back length hair. My caramel colored skin appears a ghostly pale, something most Bengalis wouldn’t receive from genetics. But Mum’s proud of my father’s origins, and although I’ve never travelled to the country, she never gives up a second to ramble about the dry and poor country. Apparently, it’s nothing like Australia. How is she so proud of her husband's culture and traditions when she can't stand pictures of him? He left us hanging; just hanging loosely by a thread. I will never forgive him for making me wait these sleepless years, while I just waited. I waited for him, cried for him. But he didn't come back. He never came back. Feeling the bitterness take over my soul, I take several sharp intakes of breath. No, I can't hang onto the past like this. One imperfection in life isn't enough to ruin me -I won't let it ruin me. I'm perfect, aren't I? Isn't that why people don't like me? Because of my "perfection" which they know nothing about? Why can't anybody read me? Half-an-hour later, I’m still swinging with my pencil-thin legs rushing back and forth. Like a pendulum on a grandfather clock, swinging with assistance from gravity. When the sun is in the middle of the sky, I’m notified I’ve spent far too long on the swing, as I dig my heels into the dirt. Slowly and steadily, the pacing slows down to a complete halt. Just because I'm not an open book doesn't mean they can't tug at my pages. Catching my breath and feeling the sensation lessen, and boredom return, I approach my two-storied house and amble inside with a yawn. Days are usually tiring for me, my eyelids seizing every opportunity to shut after a few seconds, but my brain disallowing the action. Which is why nights are the highlights of my day –or rather, night. Mum is still preparing the food, not bothering to notice the front door slamming because of the wind.
Her hands gather many varieties of spice, pouring them into the pot and resembling a witch creating a potion. I watch her pour salt, some cheese and tomato paste and a mixture of different ingredients. With a smile forming on my lips, I shake my head at the way she’s so oblivious to the world when cooking. But when she's away from the kitchen, she's the perfect feminist; strong, bold and full of herself at times. People say we're alike; I have to disagree. We're nothing alike, especially not the "full of ourselves" part. I'm sitting at my desk, casually working through math equations and English comprehension. I've got many things to do, but feel so tired during the morning. Only when I find myself requiring light do I realize I’ve studied for hours. Simply hours. With a yawn, I squeeze into my bed and wait for the gentle snoring of Mum to be audible. My fingers cross, hoping she’s not having those “bad days” when she can’t get any sleep. Because I won’t be able to sneak out if she does -also, there’s no knowing what her mood will be tomorrow. If scrambled eggs and bread aren’t on my plate tomorrow, I’m officially doomed. Although, because cooking is her own little hobby, there's a chance it'll be more than that. I really didn’t need to worry, because after a few minutes, her soft snoring rang through the crack under my door, crashing into my ear-drums. Perfect. Gathering a torchlight, I push aside all my covers and creep down the hallway toward the front door. A snort comes from Mum’s room, and I find myself panicking. What if she wakes up for a glass of water or milk and finds me on the way outside? Oh, yeah. I’m not going to be grounded for sure. Thankfully, the sudden interruption in her slumber was only minor, and in no time, her soft snoring screeches through the air once more. Although, it’s a relief to be hearing her snores again, I do often wish she’d stop. Sometimes they reach such high volume, I find myself comparing her with an elephant, a trumpet stuck in its trunk. Of course, I’d never mention this aloud; her snoring is an offence to elephants, and in no time, I will find a herd of the giant creatures, angrily tapping on my window. I examine my clothes, even though there won’t be time to go back if they’re not right. Thankfully, the “organized” Jane has her brain working hard today, as I’m not in my pajamas today. Sometimes, I sneak into them if I think Mum’s coming closer, because dressed up in casual clothes would be too suspicious.
The coffee shop isn’t far away at all, and in no time, I stand in front of the dark-brown building with a light-up coffee mug with steam flowing in the window for display. I push the door for once. Usually, I find myself pulling and tugging on the door as hard as possible, and then find the tiny but irritating sign reading “PUSH.” Even after so many visits, I still forget how to open the door. Typical Jane, as Avril would say. It’s still the same old shop, with absolutely no-one besides the bored worker with a red and black uniform. There are designer lights enhancing the walls and ceiling, all in different colours of the rainbow. Of course nobody else is here; who else would bother coming here at one a.m. at night? Anybody but me and some of the workers. I’m even willing to bet the boss is home right now, snuggled among her dark room and warm blankets. So what exactly do I do here? Pretty much crosswords, and sometimes I bring a laptop over to write notes down when behind in an assignment. Or just social networking. But today it’s too risky to bring a laptop, since Mum might notice if it’s gone from her room. Plus, I didn’t have permission to take it in first place. On the desk sits today’s crossword; there’s a new topic every day and a mini-crossword, usually with a heading telling us the main idea. Pursing my lips, I confidently pick up a copy of the puzzle. The girl behind the desk smiles at me, revealing perfect teeth. Her blonde hair is in a tight pony-tail under her light-blue cap, and even in the dim light, I can see her orange freckles. “Hey, Jane. Why are you here?” She rolls her eyes to show it’s a rhetorical question. Anyone who knows me well enough acknowledges how this is my second home. “Plus, you look really pretty with your hair out.” She pauses, before cupping her hand to the side of her mouth and leaning forward. “Trying to impress your date?” she inquires with her light-blue eyes flashing. “Uh-huh. And who would that be?” I decide to play along. “That guy sitting at the table,” she says, nodding her head in the direction. My entire head revolves around, as I watch a boy with black hair staring right back at me. In front of him is the book I saw at the bookstore, before he rudely stole it and dashed out of the doors. My heart paces faster as he smiles at me with a cock of the head, motioning me to stroll over to him. I freeze.
Why does he have the book tucked under his arm? This is the first question which darts into my mind in an instant. More importantly, why would he try to show off? Has he decided to hate me so much –in the few minutes he has known me for– that he came here to terrorise me? Surely, he isn't one of my Facebook stalkers -I mean, I know people look up to me in all different ways, but unrequited affection is just... wrong. How would he know about my insomnia? I mean, the only people who acknowledge my condition are Sebastian and Melissa. I could’ve slapped myself for being so stupid. Of course, Sebastian would notify the sixteenyear-old arm-biter and now, apparently, a stalker also. Both of my two best friends showed signs of recognition when I admitted to having a new neighbour -not exactly cheerful, unless bulging eyeballs are considered a sign of happiness, but they clearly know him. “Hey, Jane,” he says when I stroll over to him, my feet going with the flow but my brain suffering through a mini coma. How does he know my name? Well, it’s kind of obvious, actually. Everybody at school knows my name -it's impossible not to. Although people don't really acknowledge me, I'm still loved. He must be starting this Monday or something. “Sit down,” he says, motioning to the red-leathered seat opposite of him. I slide in between the marble-resembling table and seat, before sitting down on the soft leather. My heart paces at an abnormal speed, as all the possible outcomes of this coincidence race through my mind. Why is he here? Does someone up there hate me so much for this to happen? Or is this just jealousy because I'm far more pulled-together than they are? Do they want me to start sleeping again by bringing River to the one place I cherished since last year? They’re all questions to which I don’t have an answer, and unless somebody decides to answer my questions, it’s foolish to expect any. Unless my mind replies back to me. Which might as well be considered a mental condition? “Do I honestly and utterly have to sit here?” I say with irritation, not bothering to drop my fake British accent. It naturally overloads on my normal, Australian accent when I’m angry. “Don’t you have somewhere normal to be? Like, oh I don’t know… a bed?” “Will you ever drop the fake accent?”
“Not on ya life, Pal.” I pause with an expression of wonder crossing my face. “How’s that one?” “Too American. I mean, have you ever heard anybody in Australia using ‘pal’ in their vocab?” “I guess not,” I admit. “Anyway, I wasn’t kidding. What are you doing here?” He appears sheepish before pushing the book towards me. “Here. Sorry for today. I thought I needed this more than anybody.” “What?” “I'm an insomniac. Guess this book caught my attention. And, well, I had to have it.” His voice drops in volume. “Even if it meant biting complete strangers.” There’s silence as I flick through the pages in the book. So much like my millions of school textbooks, but too many pictures. There’s one of a boy lying in bed, his chin resting on the palm of his hand. The digital clock beside him reads three a.m., yet, he doesn’t appear the slightest bit exhausted. This resembles me more than words can explain. However, it has more connection to River than I’d ever admit. He claims to have insomnia, and when a boy is at a twenty-four-hour coffee shop at two a.m., it’s difficult to disbelieve. Besides the pictures, all the information is overdone. Read over a million times by me on the internet, whilst I scurried to discover a solution. Maybe not in the exact words, but “Telling an adult,” “Stop playing on the computer,” “Limit time listening to music” is all old news. What I need is a new solution for me to follow. Something which hasn’t been discovered yet, but the solution to all my problems. Such a theory is so spectacular and make-believe sounding, it might just be possible. But there's no such thing as a permanent cure. Even if I go one day with sleep, I'll probably crave the darkness the next. “Jane, I think we started off on the wrong foot.” My goofy grin breaks out between my thin lips, as I point to my arm. “More like the wrong arm.”
There isn’t a bite mark there anymore, but there was. River obviously remembers it, judging by how his cheeks turn scarlet and has a new expression; is it guilt? However, I count myself unlucky as he rolls his eyes, obviously unimpressed by my lame joke. “You’re purely hysterical.” “Says the boy who thinks biting people is the solution to everything.” “Why are you so against me?” he snaps, causing me to blink by his harshness. “I mean, have you ever counted yourself lucky, free from things that haunt you?” Sure. When I see people on the streets, their bones sticking out from their thin layers of flesh, I feel luck is on my side. When people beg me for some food or maybe an item, I feel pride and rich. When I see somebody with a less put-together excuse for a life, I feel pity. However, compared to this boy who has sneakers of the latest brand and his hair styled with what-I-assume is expensive gel, how can I possibly discover good fortune? What’s more, he claims to be less lucky than me. My life’s perfectly average, besides my slight sleeping condition. I’m average, if not close to perfect. Why is this random boy telling me otherwise? “Are you bipolar or something? One minute you’re bored, the next guilty, and now you’re shouting in my face.” I wipe away some spit from my face; more specifically, River’s spit from when he tried putting extra harshness to his words. “I give up. You’re impossible.” The tiniest of smiles form on his face. “Just giving you the book wasn’t the only reason I’m here,” he says. I stare at him, and only when he frowns does realisation spread; I’m holding my breath. With a whoosh of air, I’m breathing at once more. “I ran into Sebastian on the way to the bookstore, and he said you were the best scientist in the class. And also that I’d find you here. So, can you help me?” Before I open my mouth to inquire a gazillion questions, he hands me a sheet of paper wordlessly. Taking the sheet as a sign of what he's asking, I skim through the entire document. Aspects of the poster capture my eye; I don’t bother reading the entire page -why read when I can skim? How to make a love potion… You need a bowling pin, three heart-shaped cookies made with love…
I cease my reading. “How can a sixteen-year-old believe in such ridiculous things? This seems like a cheap print of something you’d find on the internet.” My eyes dart over to where it says to mix the correct does of helium, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and magnesium. There’s where he needs my help. I continue with my speech, my disgust growing larger. “Sorry. Count me out.” “Please?” “I’m not helping you so you can lust after some random girl. Okay?” “You think that’s why I need it?” His voice drops. “My parents are almost divorced. Hanging on by a thread. I just want a way to get them together.” He sighs, looking over my shoulder now and I have trouble figuring if he’s talking to me or himself. “Sometimes, you get so desperate; you take a shot at something stupid. Just hoping it might work.” My lips purse as I shake my head. “As much as spending time with a random stranger while they try and achieve the impossible appeals to me, I honestly can’t help. Sorry.” I shrug, not appearing very apologetic the slightest. River wipes some imaginary dust from his jeans. “Guess there’s no point in staying,” he says before strolling over the door, pushing it, and walking out elegantly. So much envy mixes with my thoughts. How can he maintain such a posture, even with his wiry and clumsy figure? It’s amazing how completely bland and plain he looks to the eye, but when he opens his mouth, his appearance is soon forgotten. Because when he speaks, the whole world stops to stare. It's definitely a God-given talent of his, making people listen. Making people listen. It's amazing how the only thing I crave, the only thing I desire is what this boy has. Attention, somebody to listen. Somebody to realise something's wrong before even I do. It's the kind of relationship I desire, but will never get. Only because nobody's perfect, no matter how hard they try to be. This River... he might even resemble a prince from the medieval times; one with a brave and courageous personality. However, one thing in particular bugs me more than anything -more than having a talent for speaking and the boldness in the way he walks. He didn’t “pull” the door. *
“Okay, places everyone,” declares Avril, clapping her hands to speed up the process. There are murmurings around the room, as people scurry to find the perfect position. Lunchtimes are barely enough time to get a whole play together and there’s not one boy in the entire room. Of course, there’s always Sebastian behind the stage, but he’s practicing his guitar with his long, delicate fingers strumming through the chords. He doesn’t really count. And then there's Michael, but he's doing so many minor roles, it's hard to consider him an actual "actor" in this play. “Now, we will begin with the basics," says Hazel, surprising us all. When she notices how many people paid attention to her introverted self, her lips purse together. Her cheeks are a faint pink now. “This hall reminds me of a dance studio,” whispers Lulu, one of my more-normal-friends-who-isn’t-lustingover-Sebastian, as she admires the endless amount of space. I agree with her one-hundred percent. With the brick echoing walls, twenty-metre high and a stage which is about two metres, it’s amazingly spacey. There are long megaphones taped across the exterior, for what reason, I have no clue. Lulu shivers, and I can’t help smiling. She always feels cold, even when it’s summer and thirty degrees. After all, it can’t be less than twenty degrees Celsius, so why is she shivering? This is the question that haunts me every time I see her shiver. There were silly rumours going around about her not being human -instead, she's a robotic cyborg who has been sent to Earth by her fellow creator, adjusted to not feel any temperature. Nobody believed it, but it did manage to add some light-hearted giggles around the room. However, nobody dares to tell Lulu this theory -her paranoid self will make sure the starter of this rumour never lives to see the sunrise. All of a sudden, the double doors we use to enter and exit opens, as a boy steps inside with a knowing look on his face. This means he didn’t mistake this class for karate or soccer, but rather, drama. Which is unusual? It's like those once-in-a-blue-moon situations where something out of the ordinary happens and stuns us all. All the girls who were gossiping before hush down, turning to him with a wrinkle of their nose. So plain and bland. Whilst others recognise him from before, just like Sebastian and Avril happened to do, but don’t take much notice. Maybe he was a social outcast to them. But to me, he’s not just any boy. He’s my next-door neighbour.
“Oh God,” I say breathlessly, before I can take the two words back. “What’re you doing here?” “It’s River, actually,” he replies. “And I’m here to audition for the position of the prince.” Why? You’re doing this to me for not agreeing to help you with your love potion thing, aren’t you? As tempted as the piece of dialogue sounds to expose, I keep my big mouth shut. Because of my big mouth, I have half the hall staring at me with narrowed eyes. They must be mentally slaughtering me on the inside, for trying to get rid of the only boy who’s interested in acting. Biting my lip, I turn to him and attempt not to squint my eyes to discover hidden evilness in his appearance. Because trust me, it's there -and it's taunting me how nobody else is bright enough to witness it. “We’re doing a play,” says Avril, almost too happily, as she explains the basics. “It’s called ‘Sleepless Beauty.’ Really, it’s just a parody of the original, with more modern places and pieces of exchanged dialogue. But we’re keeping it so it sounds elegant and posh, even though some of the stuff in the play is awfully modern.” She purses her lips, her fingers crossing behind her back. “You’re going to join? We really need a prince here.” He sighs wearily, resembling a parched man who lived without water for many days. Uh-oh. Although it has been only the third day since I met him, I don’t like one segment of his sigh. “I wish I could. But I have to create a potion for my parents to fall in love again. If only there was something who’d help me with the scientific measurements.” Put simply, he means me. Avril turns to me with a desperate glint in her eye. “Please Jane? For me? If we don’t have a prince for our play, there’s no way we’ll be able to do it.” My mind torments through two completely different scenes. One is how much I’ll hurt my best friend if she doesn’t complete this play. Her future as a writer might just be ruined, and if it is, all fingers will point to me. Why don't we just get a cyborg from where Lulu came from to do the job? Isn't it better than the black-mailing scheme this boy is pulling off? But then there’s the horror of working with this complete new stranger, one who I haven’t taken a great liking to, mainly because of his blackmailing techniques. So elegant and unfamiliar, I’m willing to bet Avril would never detect it. But I have. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out Avril and I are best friends; she watches my back, I watch hers.
All it takes is a few tweaks of the rules, and I find myself under River’s control, all because he figures out how bad I’ll feel if my best friend loses her big break. He's disturbingly good with his speech and changing the mentality of a person from sane to insane. Sucking in a deep breath, I say the most horrifying words ever, “Fine. Meet me at the café tonight. Oh, and bring your science equipment. You’ll need it.”
Sighing, I explain the concept to him for the fifth time in three minutes. My explanation should take a little over thirty seconds, and yet, River’s acting as if it’s the speech of the century with specially-added commas to help him zone off into his own little world. Maybe I was right about my first prediction of him being "absentminded" and completely useless when it comes to group-work -especially when people can't rely on him. “So if the silver and lead mix together, there will be an explosion?” he asks, his face innocently retarded. “Why are we talking about chemical elements? I’m talking about the school play!” But this time, I give up completely. Explaining a simple concept such as, “Be sure to come to the play tomorrow, because we’ll need you” is difficult when it comes to my next-door neighbour. What have I done to deserve this bad luck? Sure, I've denied being related to my mother and wouldn't speak to my uncle when he told me my father wanted to talk to me... but is it that bad to deserve a "prince" who'll ruin this entire production? And just like Avril described the character of the prince in this play, River truly is charmless. Naive, simple and makes me wonder if he's living in the same world as me. Then, why am I so attracted to this imperfect characteristic of his? Fuming under my breath about aliens, and how their annoying language has been affecting my social health and life, I continue to type on my computer. Waiting. Constantly waiting for River to say the first word, even something like, “Hey, Jane, can I ask you about your life, because I don’t seem to have one of my own.” Never did I realise how perfect for the "main role" he is. The café is dimly lit as always, not too flashy, but just enough light to read the novel buried in my cupped hands. My eyes dart across the words, skipping from one word to another like a gymnastic. A steady dancer knowing exactly what they’re capable of, doing everything in their power to ease their balance and make that perfect landing on their pointed toes. I skim, not read. Because that's what the confident people do -the ones who have nothing wrong with their lives. Instead of saying anything at all, let alone admitting his lack of life which everybody seems to recognise but himself, he taps his fingers against the marble-imitating table. Almost as if waiting for me to say something.
This is, however, impossible for me to achieve. Why would he, somebody I’ve barely known since the day Sebastian and Avril recognised him, mean anything to me? The most suspicious thing of all is how Avril acts as if she doesn’t know the guy. Apparently, he was born here in this tiny town, living here for his entire life and only moving away last year; three months before I’ve arrived in this small town. Yet, Sebastian doesn’t seem to acknowledge him either, nor have any clue why he disappeared out of nowhere. I know they’re hiding something, but just like me, my friends are loyal as anything. They just claim to know him by name, and that's it. Tell either of them a secret, and it will be kept for the rest of eternity, even when somebody finds themselves spilling their very own secrets. There’s no non-surgical way to find out what they’re hiding. But what if River’s an internet-stalker? Killing somebody and then deciding to slaughter anybody who spills a single detail about himself? Surely Avril wouldn’t be so heartless to let her very own friend spend the night with an internal psychopath? Laughing to myself hysterically, I find River dropping his focus on his fingers, and glaring at me with his lip curled upward. Probably in disgust. “You’re a weirdo,” he says as if it’s the easiest conclusion to make. “Your face is a weirdo,” I say instantly, before regretting how strange I’m making this entire conversation. Instead of falling back, defeated by my incredibly-lame comeback, his smirk grows wider as his blue eyes flash. With a sigh and a word, I’d rather not repeat under my breath, I continue to study the book in front of me. The wonderful essence of perfume fills my nose, and for a second, I think the sudden scent is coming from my book. But the minute I smell closely, it’s not the book. Instead, the heavily scented perfume River’s wearing. Why it took so long for the smell to diffuse, I have no clue, but I’ve never smelt anything like it. Not that it’s the best perfume in the world, rather, has a unique edge to which I cannot describe. Possibly bubble-gum mixed with lemon; something wacky like this, but not so disgusting sounding. Which brings me to the next question: Why is River wearing perfume? Don’t boys usually savour their “manly essence” and scare half the girls with their endless sweat? Perhaps it sounds a little ironic, but it’s completely genuine information. All of a sudden, I recognise the smell, but he’s not wearing it.
“Did you have a banana and chocolate-chip cookie? The really unusual ones with a zillion ingredients which you get from Save Groceries? The ones I absolutely hate?” I ask almost accusingly, narrowing my eyes. River’s eyes flittered, growing as wide as a pond at night time. Or more naturally, a river. So that’s why his parents named him that, because with his long black waves falling on his eyes, he can easily be described as water. “How’d ya know?” Or maybe it's because when he opens his mouth, it's just as brainless as if he's been stuck in a tsunami. But instead of giving him a modest and truthful, “I can smell it in your mouth” I decide it’s time I stop being honest. Sebastian has got to be the biggest liar of the century, constantly making his mother think he’s on drugs and is thinking about suicide, just to receive some attention. And at the same time, he's the worst. Then again, if my mum was out saving the world every three days because of law cases, I would probably have done the same. Needless to say, my mum’s not a lawyer and writes novels for a living. Probably why she’s so airheaded all the time; focused on her work and desperately wishing to earn money from the profession, however, regaining confidence and strength when she needs it. But one of these days, I'm sure she'll find something wonderful to write. Something which will sell, even if it's in merely a small town like this one. And when she does, I'll be cheering her on like the wonderful daughter I am. I finally identify the best way to answer my next-door neighbour. “I’m psychic.” His eyes widen. “Really?” How oddly naïve of him to believe me, because at the next minute, I find myself explaining how I can predict the future. I tell him about how I just knew there was something fishy about Avil when I first met her, and as it turns out, she's a shop-lifter. Which is complete garbage -as if the classy, I-don’t-care-what-anyone-thinks Avril could pull off a stunt which will lessen her pride? And yet, this boy continues to listen as if believing it was true. Heck, let’s remind ourselves this is the same boy who picked a recipe off the internet, claiming it’s enough to turn things around with his parents. As if a couple of bowling pins and useless everyday objects causes two people to fall drastically for each other. He’s so gullible; I can’t help comparing him to William, since the both of them have the same character traits. I never met William, nor seen a photo of him, but he’s seen a photo of me.
According to him, I’m the only Jane who hasn’t added anything fancy to my name on my profile page. It’s probably true: I have such a plain name, and yet, I love it to bits. Because my mother gave it to me, as an Australian trait. How William found my profile page still scares me, because it means a million strangers could be stalking my profile every day and I’ll have no clue. At least, he admitted to this task -but what about the other "silent" browsers? “So let me get this straight,” he says at last. “You can predict the future and you can smell what I’ve had to eat?” My eyebrows arch upward. “Nice work. How long did it take you? Roughly a half hour?” “Nope. I recognised a lie the minute it came out of your mouth. I just liked seeing you think I actually believe you.” Shaking my head, I smile against my will. Oh, well that’s perfect. Now I’m grinning like a complete idiot. The way he said those words, and how effortlessly he made me think I was fooling him. It’s pure genius, just like an actor would do. Wonderful. Now I’m comparing such a low-standard person to one of the best professions in the world. Shaking my head at my very own idiocy, I say, “So, tell me your life story.” All of a sudden, he’s quiet. But it doesn’t last long. People like River can’t last more than a minute without zipping their lips together tightly. “I’m River Mullaney. Sixteen years old and hate children’s television shows. Not that they aren’t extremely educational, but they creep me out. There’s this one show where there are these creatures that have televisions on their tummy–” “Teletubbies?” I offer. “Ah, yes. That’s the one. Well. They’re creepy and ready to kill me if possible.” He pauses. “When I was little, I used to run to Mum’s room and hide behind her. I thought those creatures were under my bed.” My eyes widen. Wow. Somebody’s the tiniest bit paranoid and in serious need of a mental check-up. Glad to know Avril-and-her-impossible-liking-for-Sebastian isn't the only one who'll need an appointment. Maybe I'll be a brilliant friend and book both their time-slots next time. “Nice change of topic, River.” “Thank you. I try my best.”
Trying not to laugh, I can’t possibly figure out what’s happening to me. What is it about this boy which attracts me so strongly? The way his black hair, several shades darker than my dark-brown hair, falls on his eyes like waves? Is that the reason I’m beginning to lean closer to his personality, wanting to find out every detail possible? Let’s remind ourselves this unreasonable boy was the same one biting my arm the day before yesterday. What really bugs me is how he forgot his science equipment, even after I called after him yesterday to bring it. If I thought myself as disorganised, I may have just found my match. This means I can’t help him with anything. A part of me wonders if he forgot his equipment on purpose, just to talk about the play with me. Or maybe he’s trying to annoy me drastically. Because if he doesn’t have his science kit the first day, this will add an extra day we need to work together. The more he “forgets,” the more I have to spend time with him. Grudgingly, if this is his plan, it’s completely ingenious. The door opens, as a girl with long blonde hair walks in, grinning like crazy at River before turning to me. “Jane! Fancy seeing you here.” She sits beside River, leaning against his shoulder. She has insomnia as well? Lots of people seem to suffer from it badly. Or maybe she just came here to see River. The latter is more reasonable, as I watch him roughly grip her shoulder. Oh, so that’s how it is. I’m seeing a love fest right in front of my innocent eyes. But thanks to my superior acting skills, I’m able to wave off the entire incident with a, “Hey, Lulu. How’re you?” “Good thanks.” She diverts her attention to River. “Gosh, I haven’t seen you forever!” She kisses him on the cheek before turning back to me. “So, how’s your life, Jane?” “It’s alright.” Besides the fact I’m seeing you flirt with the only guy to ever catch my attention -the only one I can't fully predict without feeling I've forgotten something. “River was telling me about how he hated children’s television shows when he was little,” I say, matter-of-factly. “Oh, yes. He used to grab my leg and hold onto it sometimes. Of course, I was about the same size as him, and usually ended up falling over.”
She has a tinkling laughter, Lulu does. But she’s one of my friends, so why am I suddenly so jealous of her? Isn't it supposed to be the other way around? Especially when she said, at the start of this year, "I'm kinda jealous of you, I guess. You have everything going your way. Everything's perfect for you. You're good at everything, aren't you?" So why have our roles switched when I feel a tingling need to be in her place -just for one day? The fact she knows a boy well enough to have him come over to her house? Maybe they’ve been best friends since kindergarten, and what chance would that give me to date him? Ew, Jane! Just, ew! He has acne! So what? I have black hair and dark-brown eyes -and it’s not like I’m perfect, either. Yeah? Well. He smells weird! Kind of like that banana and chocolate-chip cookie he consumed earlier? Deciding to ignore the voice in my head, I continue to stare at freckle-cheeked Lulu. Her blonde hair is flying out in all directions, thanks to the fans spinning. Summer has reached its highest peak in the hot, steaming weather. I can’t believe that, at the end of this week, school’s over. It’s Tuesday today, since its four o’clock in the morning, and this Friday, everything’s going to be over. The auditions and everything. This means, on the second Saturday during the holidays, the production will be held. The idea makes my tummy cartwheel through my insides. There isn’t much time left until the presentation is due. So many people will come to watch it in the town hall, especially the elderly people and parents who have no life. Of course, most of the students from our school will arrive and so will primary school children. It’s the talk of the town at this current moment, many people helping us with the decorations and keeping the play light and detailed. What a wonderful little town. I can’t imagine why anybody would ever find the need to leave, and though I occasionally wish I could escape to a larger city, this town will be hugely missed. “I remember this coffee shop,” Lulu says, gazing around. “I mean, I haven’t been here for so long! But still, I decided today’s the best time to meet up with both of you. I’ve been meaning to ask you, Jane, what type of clothes do I have to wear? I’m the seventh fairy.” My eyebrows cross, as I begin thinking of an answer. “I reckon you should keep it original. As in, something dark and gothic, and not ‘fairylike’ at all.” I pause. “But you should check with Avril. She’s the one running this entire play.” She nods before turning to River. "You’re sleeping in my room tonight, right?”
“Yeah,” he replies, before she heads off to the counter to order something. No amount of acting can assist me with this situation. My jaw drops so low, it almost hits the table. A tennis ball can speed through my mouth without touching any of my teeth, my eyes bulging out in horror. This is clearly one of the downfalls of my acting life -thank goodness I'm not starring in a movie, because I'd have blown the entire scene. River on the other hand, plays it calm, as he blinks a couple of times. As if my mouth isn’t touching the edge of the table in first place. Sleeping in her room? Can they get any closer? Are they sharing the same bed and doing something I’d rather not mention? Every aspect of my life, when I felt sick enough to vomit, moulds into one. My stomach is weakening fast, as I inhale and exhale as fast as possible. It’s so disgusting and revolting; I feel the need to escape. It’s almost five o’clock in the morning anyway, as I rise from the table and begin strolling out the door. “See ya, Lulu,” I say, before I’m one step away from exiting. “Oh, hello,” River says. The shock is so extreme, it’s a wonder how I haven’t jumped three metres off the ground. He’s standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame with his arm touching the other side, blocking my exit. “You do realise Lulu and I are cousins, right?” His voice is taunting, because he knows I don’t. I can basically hear him smiling, if it’s even possible. “Of course. I recognised a lie the minute it came out of your mouth. I just liked seeing you think I actually believe you.” He grins at the way I mimicked our conversation previously, before removing his arm to unblock me. “Just wondering.”
Lulu claps her hands, capturing everybody’s attention as we turn around to face her. We’re occupying the same studio as yesterday, stretching our muscles so we’re ready to do any actions for our play. We already had Sebastian who pulled a muscle at his wrist and couldn't play the guitar, and though not having much association with the actors, it still gave us a fair warning. I cannot believe Avril’s not here today. There’s barely much rehearsing time, and she quits on us in our time of need. The minute I get home, I swear to send her a strongly-worded email or text message. And it's going to contain a lot of words parents would rather me not using. One way or the other, and she’ll be wishing she never took the day off, just to stay at home. Sure, she has the chicken pox, as claimed by Lulu, but that’s still no excuse. Just a mask and a box of tissues, and she’s as good as new. And maybe a couple of people might catch it, but so what? Okay, perhaps there’s a one in million chance of the victims dying, but it's still no excuse! But then again, there’s her overprotective mother who won’t let her out of the house if my best friend dares to sneeze in the mornings. Sometimes, I feel pity for her. It’d suck having a mother who was aware of everything. But secretly, I know I’m merely jealous. My mother couldn’t care less about me, and if she does, she has a strange way of showing it. It’s astonishing how, since I’ve been nine, I managed to be involved in some kind of drama production, and not once has she shown up in the crowd. Every time we begin to perform, it’s her face I search for in the enormous crowd, edging close to tears when I don’t see traces of her face anywhere. Feeling my heart sink, I’d hide behind the velvet curtains and wonder if it’s really worth it. The minute I’m on stage and have everybody’s undivided attention on me, things are looking good for me once more. When I'm on stage, I feel like I'm flying. Like everybody's listening to what I have to say, even if I'm not myself. My father, no matter how unforgivable he was for walking away, will always be in my heart. He'll always be there as the first one who cared and listened to Jane Everett. Not Audia, or any other character I've played in school productions.
But Jane Everett herself. “Since Avril’s away, I think I’ll have to make some minor changes,” Lulu declares, her nose sticking in the air. Uh-oh. The last time she made a change, we were suspended from the science room for a week, waiting for the burnt building to repair itself. Needless to say, she’s one of the most disorganised people I’ve ever met, also lacking in leadership. I guess this is where the resemblance between her and River comes in. “First off, I’d like to make Hazel ‘Sleepless Beauty’ and Diana ‘The Thirteenth Fairy.’ Only temporarily, though,” she adds quickly, glancing at my widened mouth. “I’d like them to be at the centre of attention, just for a lesson. It’ll build their confidence.” Sebastian, who has a guitar tied around his neck, says, “Are you sure this is a good idea, Lu? Jane needs all the practice she needs for her part. Because, after all, she’s going to be the one performing on the night, not Hazel.” He quickly snaps his neck to face Hazel. “No offence or anything.” Hazel shoulders rise and fall. “I honestly don’t care. I reckon it’d be better if I practice my part, because like Sebastian said, it’s the role I’ll be playing on the night.” Lulu wrinkles her nose, obviously disappointed by her failed attempt to run a drama class. It's amazing how somebody as timid and unconvincing as her can be related to River -and exactly why am I bringing every tiny detail back to this male-stranger? Shaking the thoughts out, I focus on the current situation. Lulu's probably wondering why there aren’t any teachers in drama classes. It’s all too bad they “trust” us enough to leave us to do the entire production ourselves. Although, this might seem like the break of the century, this also means we can’t blame an adult if something goes wrong. That’s the worst part about the entire play. If we fail, everybody’s going to remember us as the “Teenagers from St. Patrick’s College Who Failed.” See? We can’t blame any teachers. Personally, I find this to be the reason no teacher is helping us with the presentation this year. All too frightened of their own shadows. All of a sudden, River rises from his position on the ground. “Why don’t we name the play ‘Sleepless Beauty and Prince Charmless’?” he says thoughtfully. Most of the girls raise their eyebrows or nod in approval, including Lulu. Sebastian shrugs before saying, “Yeah, I guess that could work.”
Smug about his ability to change things around, River says, “Lulu, would you mind if I took the leadership role today?” he asks politely, almost, dare I say it, prince-like. A smile crosses his cousin’s face. “Sure thing, Riv.” She’s probably glad she won’t be responsible if we’re bad enough to flush down the toilet. Some team spirit. “Okay,” he says, clapping his hands. “For all those who don’t me, I’m River and I’m sixteen.” Tell me something I don’t know. “And I’ve worked on many productions throughout my lifetime, and I’m an expert on them.” So much for modesty. “If there’s something I say and you don’t agree with, feel free to discuss it with me, and I’ll make sure to listen to you.” Yeah, I don’t agree with how you can be the leader. Can we discuss that? “Any questions?” When nobody dares to interrupt, he smiles before bossing us to our doom. The entire setting is changed around, and secretly, I begin cursing Avril under my breath for ditching us at our time of need. Leave us under River’s hands? Under my dead body. But who’d listen to me? My opinion doesn’t matter, remember? Sighing, I obey his instructions when he tells me to switch position with Hazel. Not the roles, but the area I’ll be standing on when performing. This means I’d be at the back, and Hazel, one of the minor characters, will play at the front. I can’t believe he’s changing so much of this play, and suddenly, I want to speak up –tell him he has no right to barge into this school and decide to control everything. This is Avril’s play, not his. And somehow, because I’m so afraid of not being heard, I keep my mouth shut. * “Hello, Jane. How was school?” Mum, surprisingly, isn’t by her cooking pots today. Instead, she’s sitting on the sofa, focusing entirely on her knitting needles, clacking against each other. Click, clack. Click, clack. “Anything happen out of the ordinary? I heard teenagers these days are as shut as an elephant standing on a book.” What am I supposed to tell her? That I’ve got a mixture of A’s for every assignment or exam? That’s nothing out of the ordinary; I always get A's. Unless something significant happens, when I find my grades dropping to an embarrassing level. I’ve been elected as the class monitor? Not different either, because I always get held for responsible roles throughout the school, despite my disorganization. The teachers sense this aura in me; something which repulses all the right people and attracts the
wrong. Maybe it's one of "pulling-myself-together." Lulu thinks I'm fixed on the inside -and sometimes, I can't help believing her. This brings me to the only thing which was different today, and that was River and his expertise leadership skills. At first, I thought he was ordering us all around, just for the sake of it. But when he finished rearranging the entire play, it was a work of art. Something which wasn't exactly publishable material, but definitely a change in this small town of ours. The way everybody’s faces lit up when he announced he’ll be giving away tickets to a movie to anybody who can memorise their whole script off the top of their head. It’s the perfect bribe. He’ll easily choose somebody at random, possibly even have a raffle, and if they can recall their entire script, they win the tickets. Never in my life have I witnessed people being so psyched to learn their lines off by heart. Unwillingly, I have to admit Avril would’ve never done a better job. Not in a million years. Her script, although very mature, is nowhere near as good as River's ideas. Once I’ve finished explaining about River and his fantastic leadership skills, she says, “Maybe you need to learn things off him. Jane, you’ve always been such a good listener.” She sighs, with nothing but the click-clack of her needles sounding. “But have you ever noticed, you maybe lacking in leadership skills?” Of course I haven’t. I’ve just been complaining to William about how horrible my life was and how I could barely control my body for nothing. But it seems like a pointless and absurd thing to say, so I keep my mouth closed. Saying nothing but a quiet, "Yeah." “Learn off him. Be sure to take what’s best in life. Because before you know it, you’ll be making... mistakes.” By the way she’s choking on her words; I know she’s talking about getting pregnant at a young age. Mistake. That’s what she called me, and possibly what I am. Never in my life have I tried to assure her I wasn’t a mistake. Perfect grades, acting skills and intelligence, and even then, I’m a mistake. Maybe she didn’t mean it so literally, and thought staying with the boy-next-door overnight was a bad idea. But either way, it stung at my insides like a million wasps attacking at once. Seriously, I didn’t understand her intentions and why she’d stroll over to his house, sleep with him and then decide it’s a bad idea. And when he found out she was pregnant, he ran away. As far as possible from the mother of his child. What a wimp.
Do I really care? No. My mother and I share a distant and public-display-of-affection kind of relationship. We don't fight, but we don't understand each other. It's not fair to say she's the only one who doesn't bother to recognise her daughter -I haven't been trying hard either. But there are some things which will be like this forever.
Sighing, I amble towards my room, when all of a sudden, she says, “Take a quick shower, okay? I’ve invited our next-door-neighbours over for dinner. They should be here in a half-hour.” Oh, okay then. Now you tell me that the first boy to properly get my attention is coming over to this house, and, dare I say it, eating. Of course. Why tell me a little earlier? It’s always better to wait for Jane to finish rambling on and on, and then remind her about the dinner party which I never had any clue about, and then expect her to be ready within a half hour. Groaning inwardly, I throw on a pair of clean jeans, full-sleeved top and let my hair trail behind me. Now for the housework. Mum’s room is completely tidy and organized, but not mine. Either I’ll have to lock it down and prevent anybody to march in without a mask, or I’ll have to clean it up myself. Choosing the latter option, I begin to work myself around the room and straightening a few aspects of the room and rearranging them. There are apple cores hidden under the bed and orange peels in her drawer. If there’s anything in the right place, I cannot see it, and I suddenly find myself feeling thankful that the light is still attached to the ceiling. Knowing myself, it can be attached to one of the walls, hanging from the side. When I’m almost finished cleaning the room, the doorbell rings. There’s no way she’ll be fit enough to get up from her needlework and answer the door, so I decide to drop what I’m doing and open the entrance, a smile plastered on my face as I do so. “Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Mullaney,” I begin politely, opening the door a little wider so they can scuttle inside. “Oh, and hello, River.” I notice there’s a small toddler in his arms. “And you are?” “Elise,” she replies, waving her arms frantically until River places her on the ground. She waddles inside like a penguin, before declaring the obvious words, “I’m a penguin!”
A smile crosses my face, but she doesn’t seem to notice it as she stretches her arms outward, reaching for her mother. Mrs. Mullaney picks up the little girl and cradles her, leaving River standing outside with raised eyebrows as if to say, “You gonna invite me in, or what?” “Come in, River,” I say, attempting to put as much weariness in my voice as possible. “Follow me and I’ll lead you to the kitchen.” “Love your enthusiasm, Janie.” “It’s Jane.” “Just like my name is Theodore River Mullaney, but it doesn’t stop people from using my middle name.” This time, instead of letting him trail along, I turn to face him with raised eyebrows. “Really?” A smile twitches his lips. “Nope. Just checking if your idiocy is still working.” “What can I say? I learnt from the best.” I flick my hair before walking off, and regret it immediately. A couple of minutes ago, I had a shower, meaning my long hair is deadly wet. Towels always make my hair go frizzy, so I don’t find a need for them. Unfortunately for River, about a litre (exaggeration there) of scattered water strikes his face as I purse my lips, squeezing my eyes shut and crossing my fingers. Did I really do that? Of course, since the strands of hair have been recently washed with scented-shampoo, aspects of the water still smell like it. The scent is heavy and nourishing, making me feel even more embarrassed by my sudden nerve. Why did I just flirt with him? Did he realise I was flirting with him? Turning around, I expect him to attack me with something like, “Your flirting techniques are so lame.” But instead, I witness him wiping the water away from his face and stuffing his fingers in his mouth, tasting it. My jaw drops.
He must love mortifying me, but the thing is, it works every time. He’s so unpredictable and wild; I can’t help a smile, despite my efforts, crossing my face. I wonder if he realised I was flirting, and just did this to lighten up the mood. Or make me laugh. Or just feel uncomfortable. But the thing is, with River Mullaney, I just never know what he'll do next. He manages to keep me mystified, even when it's obvious he "goes with the flow." Spontaneous. Strange. Without me realising, the smile appears. The minute it appears, I manage to get rid of it instantly, faking a disgusted look. Not that I had to pretend much in first place. “Watermelon-flavoured shampoo?” he says at last, licking his lips as if he’s finished a meal. “I never knew it existed.” “Neither did I. That’s because it’s strawberry-flavoured.” “Rrrrright. I knew that. Just testing, you know?” The smile, which I’d tried so hard to cease, spread across my lips once more. “Yeah, I know.” Then, I walk off to the dining area, where everybody is busily chatting to one another. “Hey, Elise,” I say to the little girl, just to avoid River’s piercing eyes. Or actually, ignore him completely. “Hello,” she says in a voice making her appear ten years older than she already. “Do you have any chocolate here?” River mutters something to her about being impolite, but I shake my head. “No, I’m sorry. Mum doesn’t allow junk food in our house.” “Oh.” Her face falls, as she wrinkles her delicate nose before poking at my knee. “Jelly,” she says simply. “Um, it’s Jan–” “Jelly!” she shrieks at the top of her lungs, causing me to blink and scurry backward the slightest bit. “Jelly it is,” I say brightly, trying not to appear as weary as I feel.
Elise, with a triumphant smile pasted on her face, waddles over to her mother. Mrs. Mullaney tenderly picks up Elise and strokes her long fingers across the little girl’s hair, before diverting her attention to the conversation my mother was involved in with her husband. Something I truly don’t like is how my mother stares at River’s father like he’s an angel. Hiding a coy smile every so often and laughing with her eyes twinkling, it’s obvious she has fallen in a trance with this married man. At the same time, I see Elise’s mum shoot her husband a death glare, almost as if saying, “Don’t even think about it.” Although this sounds extremely pig-headed of me, my mother’s a million times prettier than her. She’s probably seething internally, trying to figure out what it is about my mother she doesn’t have herself. Everything, I feel like screaming at her, banging my fist against a window. If it existed, of course. But unlike most people defending their birth parent, I don’t say anything at all. Instead, I watch wordlessly and claim to see something in Mr. Mullaney’s eyes. It’s scary how much River resembles his father; same crooked smile, thin lips and flat-appearing eyes. Whereas the only thing he inherited from his mother is his abnormal height –he’s almost five centimeter taller than me, and I’m confirmed to be one of the tallest in the whole school. Not that there are many students to compare with, of course, but still. His mother is obviously taller than her husband, which though would sound laughable to some people, is adorable through my eyes. Somehow, I find myself heading to my bedroom and River, possibly out of curiosity, follows me. His hands are wrapped around a fully-blown-up balloon, as he childishly begins to play with it. Rolling my eyes, I feel the urge to question his age and his immatureness, but my sharp mouth stays shut for once. I watch the balloon without much focus. Bounce, bounce, bounce. “So you live like this?” I say with my lips forming into a thin line. “As in, with your little sister?” “Yeah.” Bounce, bounce, bounce. “Even though she doesn’t seem to care about you?” “Trust me. She’s the best part of my pathetic family.”
Bounce, bounce, bounce. “And your parents who hate each other beyond existence?” I inquire, just to push him off the edge. It works perfectly. Pop. The balloon which was, a couple of seconds ago, bouncing so merrily and freely was in pieces on the floor. River’s eyes narrow, not bothering to take thought towards the shattered balloon, but my expression remains unreadable. Instead of revealing how frightened I was about the popping balloon, and how most of them scare me, I continue to stare at him, waiting for an answer to approach. “They don’t hate each other,” he says, his voice cooler than I can ever imagine. “They just don’t agree with each other much.” Wow, somebody’s been taking professional acting classes, I think to myself in grudging admiration. But instead of voicing my real opinion and letting his head get bigger than it already is, I continue on the same subject. I continue to argue, although I know there isn’t any chance of winning. Why am I arguing with him? What kind of information do I need? Quite simply, River’s the good guy in this situation, whereas I am merely somebody agitating him. “If they hate each other, why are they still together?” “The divorce papers are under Mum’s bed,” he says instantly. “The minute she feels the need to get away from him, she will. Meanwhile, I’m downloading useless recipes to do everything to keep them together.” A part of me dies away in guilt, knowing this isn’t right to accuse him of something like this. Instead, I keep moving forward on what I’m saying. “Why do you need them together? In about two years, you’ll be separated from them forever.” Even I can detect the half-hearted tone in my own voice, because I don’t want to argue. And yet, there’s something pushing my buttons and making me want to hurt –anger– him. He snorts, as if I’m missing something completely obvious. “What about Elise?” Every bit of guilt I’ve attempted to avoid all this time has come rushing back to me, hitting me straight in the face like a strong gust of wind. What has come over me? Am I the kind of monster who’s pressuring people into giving them important details of their life, just so I can twist them around and pretend not to care? Well, newsflash: I do care. More than I’d like to admit, I’d care if anything happened to my next-door neighbour. Not only will Avril not have the perfect prince to play a part in her play, but I won’t have a friend to shoot
me snappy comebacks whenever I deserve it. Oh, wonderful. Now I’m thinking of the new boy in a completely friendly way. Barf. But the minute I open my mouth to apologise, I find River’s legs edging closer to the desk with my lava lamp sitting. His hands trace around the lava lamp, like a blind man observing the sun for the first time. “Are you good at monopoly?” he asks, completely irrelevant to my lava-lamp. If there was one thing required to make this more random than it already was, I’m baffled. There is nothing more out of subject than looking at a lava-lamp and inquiring one’s monopoly-playing skills. “What’s with the sudden change of subject?” I ask finally, my eyebrows furrowing into a deep frown, but my mouth resisting a smile. “Short attention span?” “Yeah,” he says with his crooked smile. “Very short.” “Like when you’re watching television, but when the ads come on, you forget what you’re watching?” “Something like that, yeah,” he says with a laugh revealing his perfect teeth. For some reason, I can’t help smiling. Although, so unpredictable and random, I think I have him figured out, and will be able to predict everything else from now onward. He changes subjects to things completely irrelevant and unusual, but something tells me I can work out what he’s saying. “Do you like cheese?” No, I like cows. This is exactly what I expect him to say at this current question. “Nah, I like cream better,” he replies, pretending to be thoughtful. Shrugging, I can’t help grin internally. My prediction was close enough to what I expected. Like everybody else, I’ve figured him out and slowly losing interest. Why is that? Because nothing keeps me occupied long enough to find some connection? He’s just like Sebastian; mysterious at first and somehow, near the end of the day, so predictable. Another version of my best guy-friend. Does this mean River’s one of my friends? All of a sudden, my phone begins buzzing. “Hey, Jane, I’m coming over to your house right now.” “Avril? Why now?”
“We’re practicing our lines, remember?” she says, sounding the slight bit suspicious. I can almost picture her eyebrows fixing together in deep concentration. “You okay, Jane? You never forget about anything. We were talking about it in math.” River continues to play with his fingernails, but turn around to roll his eyes. The minute he does, I’m immediately filled with self-conscious feelings, as I gently touch my skin. Who knows –maybe some pimples have popped out in the last five minutes. But I have no clue why he’s rolling his eyes so ignorantly like this. It makes me feel… insecure? Like he’s reading my every thought? “Of course I didn’t forget,” I say convincingly, only because of my acting classes. Then again, Avril is an actor/playwright also, so she might be able to detect my lie behind it. “Come this very minute.” When I press the “End Call” button and let it flick out of my wrist, I witness River’s eyes on me. Burning through me, as if trying to detect a blade of orange grass among red ones. That’s how closely he’s watching me, and quite frankly, it’s severely uncomfortable. Why is he staring at me like that? Am I some kind of freak show which doesn’t deserve to live? Realising how self-conscious my brain truly feels about a near-stranger eyeing me with such a deep, meaningful look, I can’t help feigning a cough. One which, thankfully, causes him to blink out of his trance. “Let’s play a game,” Elise says, strolling into the room in a way which reminds me of penguins. Again. “I wanna play snap!” She looks at me. “Jelly?” Determined not to make the same mistake again, I don’t bother correcting her. Instead, River simply chuckles before saying, “Jane doesn’t have any cards, Leece.” Wrinkling up her nose, she stumbles over to the front of the door, picks up the bits of balloon which River had burst a few minutes ago, and stuffs them in her mouth. My eyes widen in horror. “Play snap! Play snap!” Before I can gather up my courage to stand up and pull the substance out of her mouth, she’s already running with her hands waving about and screaming the same words. “Don’t bother,” River says, touching my elbow when I’m about to stand up and chase her through the hallway. “She always does that. It’s a form of suicide, just like the one my uncle used.” For a second, I had recovered from shock and my eyes weren’t bulging anymore. Now, once again, my jaw almost hits the bed. “Your uncle committed suicide using a balloon?”
“No, but we all pretend he did. It’ll be much easier than explaining he died of lung cancer to Elise. Heavy smoker. Also, it’ll show her what not to do.” There’s a pause as we both hear River’s sister screaming, though faraway, extremely loud and ear-piercing. The sound travels through all the rooms of the house, I’m certain, and Elliot the Cat meows from next door –his way of showing how angry he is. With a raised eyebrow, I turn to River who’s sitting at my desk, his eyes appearing tempted to roll skyward. I smirk. "What not to do?" “Unfortunately, my sister has a mind of her own.” Even after all the screaming, the popping of balloons, the accurate predicting and balloon-choking uncle, I know something I’d never want to admit aloud. River still has my full attention. If he screamed from one end of the room, my head would snap up to watch him in awe. Just to see what he’ll do next –even if I think he’s predictable. The thought is so utterly humiliating; I’ll never tell a single soul. Not Avril, who I’d tell everything in the world to, and not Sebastian, to who’d I blurt out everything but girl-stuff. Sometimes, there are things I just don’t wish for people to know. Maybe it has something to do with saving them, or maybe keeping myself from people giving me freakish looks. The latter appears to be a more reasonable reason. All of a sudden, there’s a knock on my door.
“Hey, Jane. So what happened in drama today, seeing as I wasn’t there and–” She stops abruptly, glancing at River from top to bottom. “Oh, hello, River. Fancy seeing you here. With Jane. Especially since she has a strict noboys-allowed-in-bedroom policy and…” My mouth falls open to say something so smart and witty; it’ll make everybody stare at me. But nothing comes to mind. It’s like everything clever and funny I’d ever thought up has vanished out of my brain completely. Because Avril, for once in her pathetic life, has an accurate point. I never let boys take a step into my room, let alone somebody so unknown like River. Even Sebastian, when he escaped the clutches of his parents to visit me in the middle of the night, I made him sit in the living room. Unfortunately, he would give my mum a fright if she ever felt thirsty and the need to drink milk. So quite frankly, I had to let him out of the house which he did without hesitation. Come to think of it, he’s never visited me since that day. “Mum made him come here,” I lie. Before River can give me a puzzled look and correct me, I say, “She said it to me privately. She wanted me to hang out with you ‘cause she thinks you’re a loner,” I tease. “Yeah, and you’re the most popular girl in school. Am I right?” He’s not even joking, and I can detect something behind his voice. Some sort of sharp edge like a razor blade, but I can’t work out what he’s hiding behind his voice. “Actually, she is,” Avril says, so abruptly I forget she’s in the same room. “She’s just modest about it, that’s all. Everybody knows her.” Nudging her, I can’t believe she’d say that. I’m not popular. Maybe everybody would listen to me and then ask me for advice, but not popular as people would appear on television. Or perhaps it’s merely my complex and twisted way of thinking, but if there’s anything I’m not, it’s popular. Unpopular; I’m not that, either, but somebody who’s in the middle somewhere. “Jane’s just a little wacky,” River says, brushing off imaginary dust from his shorts. “Well. I’m going home. Avril, do you want a ride?” She blinks. “You have your driver’s?”
“No. I meant on my latest invention.” He motions outside, where I see an object lying on our doorstep. I hadn’t noticed he brought anything to ride on the way here. It’s one of the strangest things my eyes have ever been forced to witness; two skateboards twined together by a piece of barbed wire. Quite obviously, two people can ride on the instrument at the same time. River notices me staring at his invention, as he raises his eyebrow with the tiniest bit of a smirk forming on his lips. “Creative, huh?” “Not as creative as yogurt on pineapple,” Avril adds, and although I want to laugh, I’m not too confident she’s joking. “Nah, onions with cream are better.” River frowns, as if trying to find out what’s wrong with Avril for thinking such a disgusting thing is yummy. I want to join him, but I’m sure he’s got serious issues also. “Apples and Coca-Cola are better.” “Not as good as bread and grapes.” River licks his lips, as if thinking of the actual food. “Isn’t that a little… weird?” “Actually, I was thinking something along the lines of weird and totally awesome.” Avril stares at him in horror. “Honestly, River. You scare me sometimes.” Shaking my head, I roll my eyes skyward. “You both scare me.” With that, I gesture out the open door and watch as River races down the hallway. I feel like warning him about how slippery the wood, but as he sprints to the kitchen in less than an eye’s blink, I suddenly don’t find a requirement. Which is strange, because I always find myself tripping the hallways of my own house? Or maybe I'm being a lovesick girl and seeing all of River's flaws as beauty. Ugh. What's wrong with me? How am I ever supposed to be successful in life? I've always had a plan of what the perfect man would be like: muscled, perfect-faced, rich and mature. River, on the other hand, is completely the opposite. That's so not my type. I should stop liking him this instant. Yes. I will train myself to not like him. After all, aren't I capable of everything? “So are we ready to begin rehearsing lines?” Avril raises her eyebrows, and I can’t blame her. I’m pretty much watching River’s every move from the way he’s picking up Elise and holding her tightly and laughing with my mum
about something. The kitchen’s directly in front of my room, but has a ten-meter gap from it. “Of course, unless you’d rather drool at River all day. In that case, I think I may just throw up.” Elbowing her in the ribs, I laugh lightly, pretending she’s not one-hundred percent correct. Which she’s not – I’m not checking out River. Admiring somebody’s hair and checking them out are two different stories. To me, anyway. But then again, would I ever check out the hair of somebody I disliked? I don't like him in that way. No, that's just ridiculous. Of course, Avril would never believe me if I say that to her. “I don’t like him, you naïve, ignorant child.” “That’s what they all say,” she finishes, her eyes widening mockingly. “Next thing you know, you’ll be under the spell of Prince Charming.” I snort. “More like ‘charmless.’” * “Okay, let’s begin,” Avril declares. After practicing our lines for a whole hour yesterday, I’m positive everything I’m going to say is correct. Well, in right format, anyway. Thank God, she’s here; I can’t imagine life with River controlling my every move. I’m positive I’d be digging my own grave if he dares to utter another order. He’s so bossy! Lulu doesn’t seem to think so, but then again, she’s his cousin. By insulting somebody who’s related to her, she’s pretty much bringing offense onto herself, which I’m confirmed most teenagers wouldn’t do on purpose. Especially not the "I can't let anybody say anything bad about me" Lulu, who's more self-conscious than any human being I've witnessed in my short, teenaged years. The perfect Lulu is dancing across the stage, her seven years of ballet training finally wearing off to good use. The way she pranced across the stage was a mind-boggling scene, because she did it so elegantly at the same time. Her legs are never tangling up. And she's completely wrong about me being good at everything -I don't have a musical bone in my body. She has, on the other hand, a gift. Even if she doesn't have everything going her way, she still can dedicate her worries and fears to music.
“Alright.” Sebastian claps his hands to capture everybody’s attention. He uses his right hand to pull up the pair of glasses which have fallen on his nose. "Let's get Jane on the stage." I feel all eyes on me, burning through my head like daggers as I head up to the stage. River is already sitting there at a table; one which is required for our "first date” scene. For some reason, acknowledging the fact we're dating sends a range of shivers down my back -ones which have nothing to do with the chilly atmosphere. Can it be possible he’s thinking this is a real one, even though I’d never date him? Honestly. I wouldn’t. Never ever. Why do I feel so stomach-clenched and tongue-twisted when I'm around him? Why does my heart flutter as if it has wings of its own? Ugh. No, no, no! I cannot like somebody as unattractive as him -looks at everything in men. Everything. Even in my head it sounds unconvincing. Ignoring my irrelevant thoughts, I sit down on my chair and wait for the play to begin. The bright lights are shining vividly, straight into my unsuspecting eyes and reflecting off them. River, for the act, is wearing a black suit with a sapphire tie attached to his neck. Undoubtedly, it’s the only thing which is distracting me at the current moment, as I try to shake off how attractive he looks. It’s easy to conclude he has washed his face, the edge of dirt which usually clings to his face – possibly due to the fact he uses his strange inventions– has disappeared as if he has run under the strongest soap ever created. “So, my dear Audia, what shall you have to eat?” he acts, bringing a fake menu to his eyes and flicking through it. He looks at me from under his eyes, frowning the slightest bit. Almost as if wondering why I’m not saying my line. “Oh, Winston, I cannot accept any of your...” My voice trails off, as I avert my direction to anywhere but River’s eyes. Not his eyes, the colour of forget-me-nots in the spring sun. “…Kind gratitude,” I manage. “Surely I can pay for any of these meals you’re so kindly supplying?” Audia’s supposed to say it in a sarcastic tone, which I build up with ease. She hates the prince. Now Jane, on the other hand… that’s a different story. “M’dear, there seldom goes a day I don’t think about you.” Intensely, his eyes shine as he places a hand on his heart. “Let me declare my love by feeding you some marinated pig intestines.” Rising from his seat, he claps his hands twice as the server comes around with a false grin. “Hello, Your Highness,” he says, bowing.
Actually, it’s Michael from English class, the one who agreed at the last minute because River was doing it. He was in the play in first place, but in very minor roles like curtains and lights. Ever since the unpredictable Mullaney joined the crew, the concept of drama didn't seem as "girly." "Hello, Fredrick," River says, adding a spitting edge to his tone. All the boys would never let him forget it if he dares join something considered “feminine.” Even though that boy has a talent –something which I can’t put my finger on, but he never goes for the main role. Somehow, he manages to play a minor role with brilliant acting. “It is I, your diner for the night. If you need somebody–” “That’ll be enough, Fredrick,” says River, his eyes flashing at the diner. Well, acting anyway. “Fine.” With a harrumph, he strolls back to the kitchen, the food which he had in his hands earlier –the marinated pig– now sitting on the table. “Eat, my darling. For when the sky falls down, I shall be by your side. When heaven and hell mix together, I’ll be the one–” “Winston?” Yes, m’dear.” “I’m a vegetarian,” I hiss, raising my wine and splashing it all over River’s face. It’s not really wine; just water with washable food-colouring, but still manages to attract the audience’s attention. Even Michael, who hardly ever reacts to thing being the unemotional person he is, has a crazy, lopsided grin as he watches the substance spill all over River’s suit. Avril is trying not to laugh and Sebastian does the best example of not laughing. No, he’s beyond laughing. He’s pretty much on the floor, giggling like a miniature kid. Some of the seventh graders who’d insisted to watch our audition so they have an idea in their senior years, watch in disgust. We must be so immature to them, bursting out in hysterics over such a minor thing. It wasn’t even that funny, and yet, I find a couple of soft giggles escaping my throat.
Then I realise what it is. River’s expression. The horrified look which has a touch of mortification is absolutely flawless for this play, and to think he almost didn’t join. Soon enough there is a burst of applause from everybody. There is a long way to go, yes. This is nowhere near the end of the play, seeing as it’s only the second scene out of five. But I know inside, I’ll be able to pull off this play. The seventh graders don’t seem to have identical thoughts revolving their head, as they burst out of the hall with gloomy faces, some of them complaining about how it was the lamest thing they’ve ever seen. However, I was in too much of a brilliant mood to notice, as I walk backstage to bring out a towel to wipe off the red content spilled on River. To my surprise, he followed me without knowing what I was doing. Almost like he’s figured me out –which is impossible, of course, because he doesn’t seem like the intelligent type. More of the creative. Ugh. Oh no. Here I am, feeding compliments to such a imperfect and peculiar boy like him. What exactly is wrong with me? Maybe when I register both River and Avril at the local mental clinic, I'll have to make an appointment for myself. Backstage has a plain setting; no shelf to put anything on, a couple of books scattered around and a dressing table with makeup and accessories. Picking up a damp cloth from the vanity table, I pick it up as River approaches me to take it out of my hand. Surprising him, I don’t give it to him and begun to scrub at his tie with my fingernails pressing against the cloth. “Just so it’s entirely clean,” I explain to his bemused expression. “My mum will freak, seeing as you’re loaning this from her.” “Please tell me this isn’t hers. Females, in a non-sexiest way, look completely deluded in tuxedos.” “It isn’t. It’s my older brother’s. He’s got a job as a doctor and is working. He wore it to the prom, which is why it’s so special to her.” There is a short pause before River says, “How old is he?” “About twenty-five.” “So you guys spent at least a couple of years together, right?” “Yeah, but we were never close. Just two strangers living in the same house. Anyway, Mum adopted him when I was eight because she felt sorry for him. So I didn’t know much about him at all.” I shrug, as if my old family relation is meaningless. It is actually, from my eyes. Not once had I ever bothered wanting to know him better –I still
remember his rock music put up to full-blast, and neighbours complaining about the noise. “You were good on stage,” I say at last, dropping the moist cloth into the bin. “For a boy.” “You weren’t half as bad.” He pauses, suppressing a grin. “For a girl.” I elbow him in the ribs before walking out on stage again. But this time, nobody is staring at me. All eyes are on River, and for the first time, I realise how much he’s in the centre of attention. He’s the one everyone wants to watch act, not me. I’m just an acting wannabe, whereas he, despite his low quality of modesty, has been acting for many years –more experience than I ever had. From his eyes, I’m an amateur. My eyes pricked, and I can’t believe I’m about to cry over this stupid thing. So what if he’s better than me? I’m used to having eyes all on me and nobody else, but it’s time for a change, right? As we run through the second scene, I realise how much of a good actor he really is. His hands vibrantly moving with every word, his eyes widening exactly on cue. By far, he’s better than I’ll ever be in my whole life. The truth really hurts.
Every actress has those dreadful moments of worthlessness. Today, I feel exactly like the millions of females out there, thinking about their cliché teenage lives and how people are ignoring them. Attention. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, and ever since this new boy stepped into the picture, I’m not getting much of my craving. It’s the only thing I received from my father, the one person who decided to excuse himself from my life and never return. Not even a phone-call or anything special; like he’s forgotten I’m part of the family. Attention. This is one of the reasons I love being an actress, and why I chose the hobby over many after my father had left. When the spotlight’s on me, everybody’s eyes are focused on me simply and nobody else. Ever since River has found himself in this play, all eyes are on him. Truth be told, who’d want their eyes on plain-Jane? My name is enough to indicate how unoriginal I am -there are millions of me all around the world. I’m on the way to school at seven-thirty-five, even though school begins at nine o’clock sharp. Perfect Jane is never late, but if I don’t have anybody to brag about my flawlessness, what’s the point of this? Cheer up, a voice in my head says quickly. Maybe it’ll be a better day today. I snort. As if it’s not the best day of my entire life, there’s no doubt about how it can get any better than this. Watching River glide past me on his duo-skateboard invention makes my blood boil at an unimaginable rate. Everything about him strikes me as insensitive and hollow –and somehow, I can’t help admiration creeping into my feelings. He’s an admirable person for sure. Everything he does and says carves itself in the back of my mind, ready to pop out at me at the moment least suspected. He, unsurprisingly, is a hero. Although he's so carefree and extremely egoistic when it comes to acting as his past experiences, he's still down-to-Earth. He's friendly. He's somebody I can talk to at any time of the day. And no, he's not always going to listen. But it doesn't matter, because I'll always want to talk to him. I forever want to know more about this mysterious boy. It only occurs to me how his one advantage is acting. He has nothing else going his way; according to Sebastian, he used to get bad grades and got detention on a regular basis. Was extremely clumsy when it came to sports, and according to Avril, broke his arm during hurdles last year. Detentions are something which has never been appointed to me, just like how I'm terrific at hurdles.
River only has one advantage over me. And yet, it seems to be the most important. “Jane, are you okay?” All of a sudden, I’m aware of him halting to a stop, picking up his invention and strolling over to be with a quizzical expression. “You look kind of troubled.” What is he doing this early in the morning? Then the answer hits me. He has insomnia also; if there’s one thing insomniacs can’t stand, it’s lying in bed knowing they’re not going to get any sleep. Also, he’s my next-door neighbour, meaning it wouldn’t be too difficult to find him along the same way. So he wasn't stalking me like I thought he was the very first day we met -not the arm-biting incident, because it was just awkward, but when we met at the coffee shop. I think I'll remember that moment for the rest of my life. As a good or a bad thing, I don't know, but I'll still keep it tucked safely with me. “Nah, I’m perfectly fine,” I lie. “Why wouldn’t I be alright?” “Because you’ve got your school tie around the wrong way.” A grin plays on his lips as I take it off and rearrange it, my fingers fumbling as they try not to drop the tie. “Christian schools are pretty strict. I advise you not to mess with them.” “I’m not messing with them!” He shrugs, as if having no idea about my sanity and whether it’s in good condition. “That’s what they all say.” Dropping his double-skateboard against the floor, its wheels touching the ground, he points to it. “Wanna ride to school?” It’s all it takes for me to not to walk the other direction and head straight home. How dare he think I’ll be hypnotised by his talent and accept his help towards something I can do independently? Sure, this kind of thinking is complete ridiculous –I realise that. But I can’t help it; jealously is such a sad thing to apply to reality, but somehow, I can’t help myself. He’s not perfect at all –not the slightest, and yet, he’s so much better than me at the one thing mattering to me most. “As much as catching a ride with a complete blackmailer appeals to me, I’d rather not.” He grin vanishes, replacing with a bemused expression on his face. “Blackmailer?” “Yeah. We’re supposed to be meeting tomorrow at midnight at the café, remember?”
In astonishment, River’s eyes crinkle as he grins widely. “I completely forgot about that. Thanks for reminding me about my blackmailing schemes.” He winks at me, but then sighs, his facial expression serious once more. “Sure you don’t wanna ride?” Shrugging, I level myself on his skateboard. I’ve got nothing to lose; I’m an expert at skateboards and controlling them. If there’s somebody who needs to worry about their health and safety, it’s River. Unless he also has mastered unfair perfection in the art of skating, in which case I’m as good as insane. Because it'll be two things he's good at -both which mean so much to me than just being good at everything. “If you can handle it, of course,” he adds, as if challenging me. “I might have to ask you the same question.” Without blurting out another word, I let the toe of my back foot touch the ground before springing myself forward. River had his feet on either side of the centre, both feet on the board, facing me. Determined not to face him, I point my left toe straight ahead and my right toe behind; almost like a vertical line. “Scared?” I tease a vacillate River. His hesitation vanishes the minute that word escaped my mouth, his mouth smug and his shoulders slightly slumping –as if he couldn’t care less. “You couldn’t find that word in my vocabulary.” Before long we’re skating past the park and heading towards the school. Every so often, the limited amount of people who wake up this early would turn to us with weird looks, but I know it could’ve been worse. Avril could’ve seen me, and that would trigger endless teasing and weeding preparations. Sometimes, my best friend just can’t comprehend the difference between catching-a-ride-with-someone-justto-try-something-new and true-love, meaning if this new boy’s facial expressions twitch the slightest, my best friend would interpret the action like a marriage proposal. Sebastian, on the other hand, would be on my side. Not because he cares about me or anything, but probably couldn’t stand the fact about Avril talking about another boy in front of his innocent ears. Again, he doesn’t care about my best friend in the same romantic way she does, but then again, how would I know? “You know, you can step off the skateboard now.” All of a sudden, I’m faced with reality and a boy with black waves and raised eyebrows. “Unless you’d rather hang out with me. I cannot object. My stunning looks hypnotise everybody, don’t they?”
With the simple, pig-headed statement, he waves around the whole school –the one we’re standing in front of– blowing kisses at an invisible audience and giving smiles bright enough for a toothpaste-advertisement. But it still makes me smile. Despite egoistic and arrogance to be on that list of "Things I Do Not Like in People," River manages to pull it off without a scratch from my manicured nails. “I think I’ll pass.” Gathering my school bag from behind my back, I dial my locker combination, spring open the door, stuff my bag in and hurry towards the library with a book in my hand. A book of crosswords; one which I can’t help but carry around with me all day. If I can’t sleep, this means my brain needs all the extra training it can possibly achieve, even if it requires extra hours of studying in the morning. At one point in time, I’m sure I’ll suffer from dementia faster than all of my other friends and family, but on the flipside, so will River. Unless his insomnia is actually another factor of his brilliant acting, in which case I’m pretty much doomed. “Since it’s not even eight o’clock, I’m gonna stick around with you.” River stuffs his hands in the pockets, his hair combed back and his t-shirt tucked in; all the requirements of a Christian school. “Just don’t expect me to like it.” Although I’d never –not in a million years– admit this tiny detail, but I actually looked forward to sitting with River in the library. But thanks to my superior acting skills, I’m able to maintain a poker-face and shrug with a, “Whatever.” Within no time, we’re in the large library which doesn’t look any different than the average one; beanbags scattered around, shelves of books stacked on the walls and computers on the side. This is where we hold our school debating team, and also where I’m ecstatic to become the captain. But like every other thing I tell Mum about my perfection, she merely smiles and pats me on the head. It annoys me that she doesn’t care about anything I do. Irritating is the word to describe how I’m invisible compared to her adopted son. But most of all, the fact I’m getting a flat head due to her endless patting is beyond peevish. Sitting down at one of the tables, I continue to open m book and take something to write with from the stationery holder. A pen. With that, I flick through the crosswords to a page with the word “Luck” as the heading. I find myself smiling as I figure out all the answers, and the most something took me to think up was about a twentyfourth of an hour.
“You use pen for your crosswords.” It’s not even stated as a question, more like a statement, and it’s the disbelief in his voice which causes my head to snap up at him and frown. “Miss. Janie,” he adds in a light, teasing tone. “I’m flattered you have realised.” “What, do you never make mistakes or something?” Shrugging, I say, “I never said that.” My focus remains undivided on the piece of paper. “But you pretty much imply it. What normal person does their crosswords with pen?” he asks rhetorically. “Obviously, not you.” “I never said I was normal.” “I never said you were perfect.” “So what’s the point of this argument?” Finally, I cave in with a deep frown forming on my face. “Beats me. And the play’s just right for you. You truly are charmless.” Surprisingly enough, so much time has passed by while I was finishing my crosswords. Although it’s still nowhere near nine o’clock, it’s already eight–oh-five meaning more people are walking in and the chattering increasing by the second. There’s one person and there’s two and three and four…. In another eye-blink, there are six. “Wish I could say you’re beautiful for the role of Sleepless Beauty,” he mutters under his breath but just loud enough for me to hear. “But I hate telling lies.” Kicking him from under the table, the response I receive is different to what I’d assumed in my head. He holds his leg, moaning a high-pitched sound and I can’t help but shoot him an annoyed and quizzical look. The annoyed one for the fact everyone in the library is staring at us and the librarian is crinkling her nose, ready to kick us out for eternity. Easily enough, the quizzical for why it hurts him so much. With a hint of curiosity, I look under the table at my turned-up heel. High heel. Ouch; that’s gotta hurt. “Sorry,” I say weakly, edging away a little. “I forgot I had heels on.”
He turns away, but not before the tiniest of smiles form on his face. * “So, how was school for you yesterday?” To my surprise, River is on his ridiculous intention once more, chasing me on the way to school. “Besides the fact auditions were alright and Avril almost broke her leg.” I half-smile. He’s right. While he and Sebastian were talking about something, I was about to interfere with one of my famous Jane-lines but she beat me to it. Within seconds, she’s on the ground and wailing about how her ankle hurts. River and Sebastian receive the message instantly, and help her to stand up once more. But she was faking. Definitely faking. Avril may fool the entire world with her amazing, flawless lying, but she can't fool her best friend. I'm always going to see right through her, whether it's to her advantage or not. I just wish it was vice versa. To have somebody just... listen to me. It seems like such a simplistic thought, and come to think of it, I'm not sure what I'd day. But nobody realises how hard it is to find somebody who's willing to sit with me -cry with me, laugh with me. There's nobody like that. Personally, my theory behind the "leg-hurting" incident was that it was all just a ploy to prevent me eavesdropping on their private conversation. My best friend’s leg looked perfectly fine through my eyes, but maybe it’s my insensitive side speaking these words. What about the first time River’s name was mentioned? They both went silent, and that’s something I thought impossible for those two chatterboxes. Shrugging, I reply to his question with, “It was okay.” “Still think you’re perfect?” A groan escapes my mouth. “You’re never going to learn, are you? I never said I was!” Gosh, I must sound like a bratty four-year-old stubbornly declaring the truth. “But you act like you can see through people,” he points out, turning for the first time and letting his blue eyes burn into mine. “You’re quick to judge, Jane.” I cannot deny this statement the slightest. How long have I been convincing myself I can predict River’s every move? Or how I simply took his name for account and began making theories on what he turned out to be like.
Sighing, I stand on one skateboard on his invention and pull myself forward. River, surprisingly, was expecting me to do this, and pushed his foot back so we head faster towards the school. We’re passing the same park we headed past yesterday, but since I woke up a little later than usual, there are lots more people scattered around. Abruptly, River touches the ground lightly with his toe, slowing the skateboard to a complete halt. “See that boy over there?” He points to a boy with a baseball cap, his pen scribbling away at a piece of paper, too deep in concentration to see the-new-boy’s finger pointing directly at him. “The one doing his homework? Tell me his story.” Not really caring, I say, “I dunno. Spent too long on the computer playing video games and then didn’t do it.” River cocks his head to the side. “I think he spent the whole night talking his best friend out of committing suicide. Didn’t get enough time to complete it.” It’s all I had inside me not to jump in shock at his dark, yet possible conclusion. Without any further words, he kicks his heels behind him and we glide across a pregnant teenager, her hand tenderly on her bloated stomach. “Tell me about that girl.” My face flushes, but I don’t say anything. Sometimes, I’m embarrassed on behalf my gender. “She was careless and irresponsible. What else?” “I reckon she got raped by her father.” For the second time, we continue to glide along the pathway to school without saying anything else. My head spins, because although he might not be right, there’s a horrifying possibility that both of his predictions could be proven correct. Maybe I can’t see into people as much as I’d like to think I do… Perhaps I truly do think I’m perfect, but never find the nerve to admit my snobby conclusion. “Tell me about this boy.” My mouth forms into a smirk, witnessing a short and skinny boy glaring up at two taller and more bulkier kids. Not even bothering to come up with a philosophical reason like River has all this time, I say the first thing coming to mind. “He’s just stirring up those kids; just being immature, I assume.” “Or maybe he’s standing up to bullies.” We’re in front of the school. For some reason, there’s another part of River I haven’t been able to see through, and even if it seems I know his life, I don’t know anything about him; not without him telling me personally.
There’s something dark and secretive about him, something he doesn’t want to reveal and I’m sure he doesn’t want to tell me. Was this the reason behind Sebastian and Avril’s sudden pause the first time I mentioned River’s name? All of a sudden, the curiosity inside me burns roughly, but instead I say the simplest thing of all. His name. “River.” “So,” he continues, ignoring me completely, “now you know you can’t judge people. You don’t know their lives.” There’s no anger or anything in his voice, but just casualty. A type of casualty which drives me nearly insane, because I want to know exactly what he’s hiding. But before my mouth can open, he vanishes from sight.
We’re sitting in the cafeteria. If this area could be named that in first place, anyway. Some of the things served here are disgusting enough to poison a horse. That is why we all do the brightest thing possible and pack our own lunches. Then, of course, there is always not-so-fortunate people who can’t afford to lose any more money –Christian schools already cost heaps– and have to survive the revolting food served. But like I said, if it can be called “food” in first place. “You seem to hang around River a lot,” Avril points out, biting into her tuna and peanut-butter sandwich. Sebastian eyes her with disgust, as she chews like a mad-cow on her beloved meal. “I saw you two on his lame invention. Do you like him? As in, more than a friend?” Horrified. That’s the one word to describe myself at that very second. What have I ever done to make us appear as we’re romantically involved with each other? To my disgust, so many events rush to mind where we’re innocent, but it’d be easy to assume something darker than the truth. Riding on a dumb invention with a boy? Maybe I’m in love with him. Invite him over to the library? Well, they don’t know River merely tagged along for the sake of it, so again, I’m utterly in love with him. And of course, kicking a boy? Teasing and light. She’s so in love. “No!” The outburst is sudden, but neither of my friends seemed unfazed. They probably expected me to deny it, but why wouldn’t I decline a piece of false information? “No and in no, or no as in yes?” “No and in no!” Classes have flashed past, but possibly only for me. Everything about the exams and academics seems natural to me. There are people around the lunch table, studying for their examinations which would come up next period, but I’ve never been in a situation where I needed to study at school. Home is for studying, in my opinion, and school is where I hand in my magnificent examinations. The lowest I’ve ever received is a B plus, so I don’t have any worries about my grades dropping. Everybody in this school are my friends. All of them laughing and chattering among each other, and occasionally giving me a hello. Nobody at this
school, however, actually talks to me. It's all like a play on its own -they greet me occasionally, but never show any signs of liking me. Which is why Sebastian and Avril remain two of my very best friends. Let heaven save me and my ridiculous choice of immature friends. “Two negatives in the same sentence create a positive,” Sebastian teases much to my annoyance. “So you do like him.” Within seconds, they’re both on their feet, singing new lyrics to a nursery rhyme. The people crowded around us –not that there are many to start with– halt their chattering and watch them with widened eyes. This may be the first semi-exciting thing which has been witnessed in months, if not years. But instead of continuing to sing the innocent and childish version, they’re singing another song. To my horror, they now change the song to something more creative -if that's even possible for the musical dup. Then they begin to create their own song; something I wish I never witnessed. If there are two worse songwriters than Sebastian and Avril, I’m willing to eat my hat. Currently, there isn’t anything on my head. That’s how much I’m willing to gamble they’re the worst. “They loved each other…” “…So very much…” “But it was her denial…” “…Which sent them in a… mush?” They both exchange bemused expressions, which soon convert into shrugs as they open their mouth to begin creating the next lines. Then a good thing and a bad thing happened. The good thing is, they’re interrupted by the door opening. Both Avril and Sebastian sigh among themselves, knowing the attention they’ve received has been overtaken. The bad news is, it’s not just anybody entering the room -but River Mullaney. He gazes around the entire room, and somehow, I’m the first person he stares into the eyes. “Do you guys always go this quiet when somebody enters a room?” Although he’s talking to the whole room, his eyes are looking into mine, squinting the slightest bit. Feeling somewhat uncomfortable, I put my apple down and
turn to Avril, hoping she begins a conversation for me to engage into. Unfortunately, she continues to munch on her “delicious” sandwich wordlessly. There are nervous chuckles all around and people begin to relax. No, they pretend they’re carefree, but some of them still have their shoulders tensed. What is it about this boy that makes everybody stop what they’re doing and just stare at him like he’s some creature from outer space? Although he's the prince in this play, although he's ridiculously talented at the one thing I wish I was... people are looking at him. I'm always stared at, but not this intensely. It's usually just an "Oh look, she exists" kind of stare. River, on the other hand, has a different type of staring focused on him by the whole room of students. Then there’s something else I noticed: only people who’ve known him previously are nervous. People like me, who didn't experience knowing River Mullaney before he left, weren't stunned or shocked. It’s definitely not his looks; he’s perfectly average, if not bland to the eye. Maybe it’s his persuasive voice or the admiration people give to all actors. Perhaps it’s all of them. Something which surprises me is how Sebastian didn’t start teasing River about our “secret” affair, or began singing the horrifying song to him. He would’ve done that with just about any other person, so why was River the exception? The exception. Those two words are stuck in my mind. River's bland to the eye, but he's an exception. River isn't perfect-faced, but he's an exception. He's not mature and philosophical in his understanding, but he's an exception. Because despite all those facts, I'm still acknowledging him as a friend. I'm still interested in him -no more than a friend, of course. Never. I'll never fall for somebody like him. Shaking the thoughts out of my head, I focus on the scene in front of me. My focus is on all the widened eyes of the people who were here when he was. Is there something about him I don’t know? Internally, I snort. I know there is something which I have yet to discover, but I have a lot of time to uncover it. Feeling almost sure River will tell me his secrets one day, I toss my apple core towards the bin. Unfortunately, it misses and hits Lulu at the side of her waist.
Normally, this wouldn’t be such a big deal if she was anybody else, but Lulu has to be one of the most paranoid people to ever roam around Earth. Just one touch on her head, and she’ll assume I’m accusing her of dementia. There are a couple of snickers around the room, while I clap my hands over my mouth, eyes widening. “Lulu, I’m–” “So sorry that I hit it at you,” finishes River, interrupting me before I can add anything else. "It’s okay, Riv." She grins. "But you owe me ice-cream." "Cookies and cream?" "You know me too well." Something makes me frown about what he just said. What’s the point? It’s not like Lulu would hit me or something. Then I realize why; he’s just being nice. Although it seems like one of the last thing this random, smartmouthed and yet, innocent person can achieve, it’s true. He’s merely being nice in taking the blame for something which may cost him his leg. Or even worse –a manicure for his very own cousin. He cocks his head to the side when noticing my eyes staring at him. “What’re you thinking about?” Shrugging, I say, “Stuff.” “Like?” interrupts Sebastian, eyes shining as if discovering gold. Obviously, since he’s the school paper’s journalist along with a musician, this would be an interesting thing to blab about. “Yeah, what kind of stuff, Jane?” Avril adds, a teasing edge given to my name. “Like the school’s new janitor?” She licks her lips, causing Sebastian to groan. Something urges me to spill my best friend’s secret love-life to him and watch him react. But friends don’t tell other friends their best-friend is head-over-heels in love with them. Wow. Did I just use the word “friend” three times in that sentence? Avril will never forgive me for neither -being the extreme playwright she is, she can't stand repetitions of words. Or other people damaging their loyalty for her. “Oh yeah.” Lulu ambles over to us, her eyes shining. “He’s hot.”
“Reminding ourselves that he’s gotta be about thirty years old.” “He’s thirty-two,” Sebastian speaks up for the first time in this conversation. “Saw his ID card, or whatever it’s called.” There are gaping mouths directed to him, as he flinches away self-consciously. “Hey, I needed to make sure he wasn’t an axe-murder or anything. And he kind of left it lying around.” “Come to think of it,” Lulu begins, inspecting me with her index finger pressed on her lip. “He looks a lot like you, Jane.” The minute the words tumble out, I can’t help a wave of nausea crossing through me. Eyes are staring at me, and slowly, several of them nod in agreement. None of them are particularly interested. Especially since I'm pretty much isolated if I didn't have my amazing friends. The eyes of people, who wave hello to me, but obviously just to be nice, flitter off me. They hate me. But I don't know why. I stick to the subject we're discussing. This new janitor. If he looks like me, he could beNo, it can’t be my father. I refuse to believe he’s my father. But what other logical explanation could there possibly be? Maybe Avril and Lulu have decided girls are more attractive than boys, and was describing a girl this whole time and mistook her for a boy? Snorting, I realize how ridiculous this conclusion truly is. As if they decided to change what they’re interested in, because this is the last thing I’d expect from Lulu. Could it be my father? There’s no reason why not. Many people around the world look similar, however, and there’s a mega possibility of this being a false alarm. Which I highly desire it to be, because the last thing I need is to face him. The same person who left me and all the attention I once had. There was a time where he visited me for a whole three months, at the age of five, and I learnt what it felt like to be truly loved. Not the kind of false affection I receive from my mother, but rather, what it feels like to have somebody standing for me, catching me when I’m falling. Being some kind of shield to protect me. But most of all, appreciating I’m myself. Not obsessing over me being a mistake, like my dear mother has never failed to remind me. “Avril,” I say after the bell rings and we’re forced to head towards our next school. “Meet me after school, okay?” “Any particular reason?” “Just checking out the janitor.” I pause, not willing to admit my pathetic yet possible theory. “I need to see if he’s as hot as you guys describe him.”
“Oh, I’m so there.” I’m left smiling to myself like an idiot. This is one of the things I love about Avril. She doesn’t try to see through me, even though she probably already does. Just takes what I say out of my mouth and assumes it’s the truth and nothing else. She can't exactly see through me like I long somebody to, however, she comes pretty close. When something's fishy, she knows it. Avril knows everything; every lie. * “How come you haven’t invited Sebastian along?” We’re in a deserted school with nothing but leaves rustling down the pavement. A soft breeze blows itself from the easterly direction, almost undoing Avril’s hair from its bun. She grasps tightly on her hair, making sure it doesn’t fly out; she spent almost half-an-hour tying back her ridiculously curly and frizzy hair. My hands clench and then unclench from my nervousness. We’re standing in front of the school toilets, because as we see the mop parked outside, we recognize he’s amongst the toilets inside. I can’t help feel sorry for my father. Wait, did I just call him my father? Without any valid proof? There are so many people around the world, and this would be my father? Shaking the thoughts out of my head, I refuse to believe he’d come back to us after all this time. It’s not possible. Simply, this is something which I’d expect in a fantasy novel or within academics; the impossible. But not in reality. Life isn’t something which can bend into shape. Some will get the longer and some would receive the shorter straw –it’s what fate throws. But what if I have the longer straw this time? What if this truly is my father? “I didn’t invite Sebastian along for a reason. One, you’d be too busy flirting with him, and two, he wouldn’t check our guys like us.” I pause. “Unless, he’s taken some miraculous interest of the same gender.” “I sure hope not,” Avril mutters under her breath before crossing her arms in response to the heavy winds. Her voice is low, but audible for me. Her eyes suddenly widen. “It’s not what you think. I don’t have the hots for him or anything. It’s just that–” “Of course, Avril,” I say in my most unconvinced voice to let her know I’m still on her trail. “You would never.”
She scowls but doesn’t say a word more. I guess there are certain things where she just can’t win, and then there are others where she can’t claim victory because of her own fault. This is one of the rare moments, because it’s her fault for drooling over one of her best friends. All of a sudden, the door opens and a man gazes at me. He’s so familiar; I can almost see my resemblance to him. The same brown eyes, black hair and flashy smile. It’s my father. I’m sure it’s my father. But why is he looking at me like I’m a stranger? His dark skin is shining in the sunset, if it’s even possible, and he begins speaking in his rough voice. One which I can’t recognize, but of course, so many years have passed by like a sailing boat. It’d be almost impossible to maintain the same voice throughout all these years. “Um, excuse me, what’s your name?” I don’t know why I’m overcome by this coy attitude, but it seems to take over my entire body. “I feel like I know you.” He frowns at me, looking straight as we’re the same height. “Well, that’s a pity because I dunno you. Though, you do look the slightest bit familiar… What’s your name?” “Jane. Jane…” What am I supposed to say? The name which my mother gave me, or the name I was originally given? I stick to the latter option. “Janie Ahmed.” The janitor’s eyes grow wide, but not so much in recognition as horror. Maybe he’s just as terrified as I am. “Asif’s daughter?” Easily, I recognize my father’s name, but can’t comprehend why he’s talking in third person. Maybe it truly isn’t him, and I’m just babbling to a complete stranger. But how does he know my father? “Yes. I am.” I pause, waiting for him to speak but he doesn’t. “He left us at a young age.” A slight grimace crosses his face, the hard expressions he wore earlier slowly melting like an ice-cube. “I’m afraid he’s gone forever.” “Forever? What do you mean forever?” “He died of cancer three months ago.” He sighs, staring me straight in the eyes. My father’s eyes, I swear. I want to scream about how I’m not mistaken. “I’m his twin brother.” His lips purse into a thin line as he watches hope vanishes from my face. Heck, I can actually feel every centimeter of hope disappear into thin air. “Don’t worry. It’s an easy mistake to make.”
“Yeah,” I say, struggling not to choke on my words. Too much shock. So much anguish and emptiness. He left us. Why don’t I feel hatred and anger towards him? Because he’s my father. No matter what he does, he always will be and always have. And now he’s gone. “I guess it is an easy mistake to make.” Avril tries putting her hand on my shoulder, but I turn around so she can’t see the transparent liquid about to flow out of my eyes. Hold it together, Jane. Surprisingly enough, the voice succeeds in processing information. I don’t cry nor feel anything. Empty like a glass with all water drained out with a straw -or a giant hole at the bottom. Because sometimes, there are things I have to face alone. Nobody will catch me when I fall.
My spoon stirs the coffee in my mug in a circular motion, yawns escaping my throat every once in a while. The coffee shop is empty today, as always. A sigh escapes my mouth. My eyes are bulging with veins, obviously due to stress -insomniacs look perfectly good in the morning, even if they've been playing games all throughout the night. So it's obvious something's wrong with me. But I'm not ready to talk to anybody about my terrible discovery. No, there are some things I need to keep to myself. I can't let anybody know I'm in pieces. Everybody thinks I'm held together by super-glue -but did they ever consider how that super-glue may not exist in first place? How I'm just pretending because I'm trying to become what's expected of me -from my mother, my classmates, from my father. People envy me. I think that's why I'm considered an out-cast. Why does this make me feel so lost? I can't choose one path without having dissatisfactions thrown at me. Perfection or imperfection. Live or die. Happy or sad. Why is it so difficult to choose one path and stick to it? River takes a long and deep sip from his mug, before placing it on the marble-imitating table and frowning. “Are you okay, Jane? Not a sarcastic remark all night.” “Don’t you mean day? It’s two o’clock in the morning.” He shrugs, waving off my words like a feather. I can almost hear his mind saying, I stand corrected. You're still the same smart-mouthed Jane as always. “Whatever. Still. What’s wrong?” Defensively, I pull my coffee towards myself and snap, “Nothing. Now, are we going to make that stupid spello thing to bring your parents back together or what?” With a hint of a smile, he stands up and puts the mug back at the counter. Following him, I put my threequarter-full cup on the counter also. Rivers slightly gapes at my wastage of food –or in this case, drink– and picks up the remaining parts of my coffee and gulping it down without hesitation. Trying my best not to appear disgusted, I merely charge out of the double doors and wait for him to follow. But I can't help feeling my heart flutter a little -he drunk out of my cup without thinking twice. People don't drink from cups which aren't their own if they hate the person. He doesn't hate me. A scrunched-up piece of paper is tucked into my hand, which is also the list of things required to make the false potion or whatever River desires to call it.
Either way, it’s fake; no matter what it’s called. I, on the other hand, have problems of my very own to take pity on the new boy. He has something which is happening this current second, and something which can be fixed soon without any worries. But my problem is nothing like that. My father died three months ago, and when I break the bad news to my mother and hope for the worst, she’s the one comforting me. She has known about his death all along and decided to do nothing about it. Yesterday at school, a range of people were laughing with me and pretending everything was the same. But don’t they realize there’s something wrong? The world I lived in two days ago is nothing compared to today; why can’t they see it? While everybody bought the fake smile on my face, I expected Avril and Sebastian to see through it. They should be the ones who should be able to detect anything their friend –or should I say, best friend– feels throughout her life. Every single thing must strike her as something, whether I’m upset or happy should influence them also. But the last person I expected to notice the slightest about my vacillation is River Mullaney, the same boy who wears a smirk on his face and bosses people to their doom. Now, why aren’t I even near ecstatic about this? Because he’s not supposed to know. He should be just prancing around and pretending nothing has gone wrong, when in fact, everything’s turning around. But why can’t any of my close relatives see it? Does this mean River had figured me out, even if I haven’t a clue about his life? The thought makes my stomach clench up, because although I’d never admit to this, it’s true. I haven’t figured him out, no matter how much I pretend he’s predictable. There’s something strange about him; something dangerous, almost deadly. And half the people at my school have already detected it, judging by the way how silent the room goes when he enters. It has something to do with his past. There must've been something wrong. There's something wrong about him -something very, very wrong. And yet, I continue to follow him to the local bowling center like a sheep on a leash. Following him at my own will, but also because he was forcing me to trail behind. He stops in front of a building with dim lights reading, “Bowling Center” and walks inside without checking behind him. For all he knows, I could be kidnapped and taken hostage. But would he care? Nope. Let’s all let Jane Everett meet her kismet, shall we? Muttering under my breath, I follow River around the bowling center and to the front desk. There isn’t the slightest bit of noise, considering nobody else was here at this time of night.
I guess this is one of the advantages to living in a small town; all shops and recreational centers are forever open, twenty-four-hours a day. Just because business is so slow at daytime, nights are more popular. But even so, we’re the only ones in this empty bowling center. A hall with an echo so loud, the slightest pin-drop can reflect against all the walls surrounding us. “Hey ya,” says a cheery and familiar voice from the counter. My head snaps up, only to see Sebastian wearing a pair of round spectacles and jeans. “What brings you here, Jane?” “You work here?” “Is it that hard to believe people would hire me?” he says with his hand mockingly on his heart. “Just the slightest, yeah.” Being the completely mature person he is, within ten seconds I see his tongue sticking out, straight at me. “You’re so mean, Jane.” “She wouldn’t be if you weren’t’ so immature,” River speaks up and despite himself, contains a grin on his lips. I can't believe this is coming from him. Him calling somebody else immature? River Mullaney has officially brought irony to a whole new level. “Hey, Seb.” For the second time, Sebastian begins muttering under his breath about how mean we are, but regardless, a half-smile forms on his face as he passes me a pair of size three shoes. “You truly do have small feet,” he states as I slip into them. “And you don’t ever fail to remind me, do you?” River asks for a size six bowling shoes and grabs them, attaching them to his feet and twisting his legs around, as if attempting to practice walking in them. His hand lightly points at the direction of the bowling alleys. I follow him. Sebastian watches this whole scene in wonder, and all of a sudden, a sickish smile spreads through his face. One which makes my face grow hot and my stomach filling with butterflies which attack every part of my body. River gets his bowling ball without bothering to check if I’m trailing behind him, his eyebrows colliding the slightest in concentration. Honestly, I was pretty much gaping at him without any intention of turning back to face Sebastian. Being the awfully mean friend he is, a grin forms on his face as he steps forward. Quickly looking away, I pretend to admire the bowling-balls on the side.
“Please don’t tell me we were right,” Sebastian whispers. “You know how me and Av love writing songs about relationships.” He pauses. “We also epically fail. So, for the innocence of your ears, lie if you must.” I pull away from his tickling and warm voice, flinching the slightest. “Who’s lying? I don’t like that–” “That’s what they all say.” “Sebastian–!” “Next thing you know, you guys are rubbing each other’s feet in the middle of a public train.” The slightest expression of a bemusement appears on my face. “Rubbing feet? Trains? What planet are you living on?” “I don’t know, Jane; what planet am I living on?” It’s his turn to be puzzled, and the most shameful fact is, he’s not even faking it. A grin replaces his expression, his eyes twinkling from behind his glasses. “Go, my dear Audia,” he begins, the back of his hand touching his forehead in a dramatic way. “Your Prince Charming awaits.” It takes all I have to not knock him into an unconscious stage. My nose sticks in the air, while I walk elegantly towards where River is concentrating on his next throw. When I stand merely a couple of centimetres away from him, he doesn’t even acknowledge my existence. This makes my blood boil, but like a good –dare I say it– friend, I don’t comment. With a simple flick of his wrist, the ball tumbles down the alleyway and straight into the gutter. For a slight second, River wrinkles his nose but soon gets over his disappointment. “Well,” he finally says, clasping his hands together like he’s accomplished something. “That was a fail.” Turning to me, I’m suddenly aware of a dimple in his left cheek. Shaking my head internally at how I’m staring at him again, I turn away, almost burying my head from shame. He's not good-looking, he's not good-looking, and he’s not good-looking. Why am I attracted to him? But regarding his statement, a smile plays on my lips. I can’t agree more. *
The next morning, my hands are shaking as I turn on the computer. Last night I had a dream about ice cream, but all of a sudden, I feel the need to check my chat history. As I surf through the contacts, I find the name I’ve been looking for: William Reef. The one who knew my Facebook profile from the millions of other Janes around the world. I’ve never met him in real life, but somehow familiarized with him over the internet; the gateway to everything. We used to chat every night, as he’d tell me details of his life while I’d comment and exchange problems. Everything used to work out so wonderfully, especially since he was a late-night sleeper. Not an insomniac, but went to bed at around eleven o’clock, even if he had highly-important examinations to do. Not that a lot of teenagers went to bed earlier. The following conversation reads it was made one whole year ago. Right before we completely stopped contact. But I remember every word, and what I was thinking as I replied. * William: Hey, Jane. Fancy seeing you around. Jane: You too. Your life must be pretty bad right now, considering you're living with fighting parents. William: Ya reckon? They're absolute torture, and don't understand me the slightest. Which brings me to the question that’s been bugging me all morning, and ever since the day we met online. Who are you Jane? My mind whirls around and around at this question. Who am I in particular? I’m Jane Everett, but that’s about all I know. I want to give an answer like, “I’m one of the most popular girls in the school but not in a good way” or “school captain” because they’re both true. They both apply to me, but somehow, I don’t feel comfortable saying it to him. Something else would be better to add. Some girl who’s roaming around the high-school lockers? A loner? Jane: I’m Jane. A great listener who listens to my friends, but I don't have many of them in first place. I’m half-Bengali because of my father, who left me at a very young age, and have dark skin and am deathly proud of it. I'm good at most things. But…
William: But? Jane: Nobody listens to me. I don’t have an opinion that counts, and nobody’s there when I need help. Of course, it’s rare I ever need somebody to guide me through life, but when I require somebody by my side, I’m looking at thin air. My best friends, Sebastian and Avril, are always here for me, but never in my time of need. William: That’s strange. But why? Jane: Because sometimes, nobody can help me. It’s up to me to fight my own battles, and when I do, nothing but plain air supports me from falling. * Plain air which stops me from falling. It’s the first thought which dragged itself into my mind when the news about my father dying reached my ears. A sob catches itself in my throat. Breathe, Jane, breathe. Why am I feeling so down? My father was one who never felt anybody else’s point of view or in other words, completely heartless and cruel. The worst characteristics belonged to him; stubbornness, arrogance and a short temper. If there’s one thing good about him, it’s the way he acts around me. The attention. And somehow, it’s all I needed, every time I’d gaze through the audience before my performance started. Searching. Just in case he returned. But he never did. All of a sudden, a deep panging beats against my chest, having no relation with my father. William. I remember him saying he used to live in Boston, just like River says he used to live. Also, there was also a description of his blue eyes and black hair. I never saw a picture of him, but we described ourselves during our conversations once upon a time. He also claimed to have freckles, but they can disappear anytime. Especially taking the scorching sun in Australia into consideration. My mind swirls, my eyes growing wide. I can’t believe the conclusion I’m about to make. River is not William –I mean, what good would it do him to lie about his own name? But there was doubt in my own mind, and I could hear
it. If it truly is River, my whole life is about to go down the drain. The number of conversations I had with him are so private, even Avril and Sebastian have no clue. It’s highly unlikely River’s the identical person. Extremely and highly unlikely he’s the one in a million people who lived in America, and then came all the way here to situate back into his own home. But not impossible.
We’re on stage, ready to rehearse the next part of the play. River –or rather, “Winston”– has a box in front of him for the next scene, a fake smile plastered on his lips. He’s sitting on the ground in long trousers, his legs crossed, as he yells, “Penny for a thought!” Me, as the Princess Audia, steps into the scene wearing my classy black leggings and a t-shirt reading, “I Love Rock Music!” With one hand on my hip, I give him a mocking raise of eyebrow. “So this is what you do in your spare time, is it so, Prince Winston?” “Perhaps.” He jiggles the empty container, the sound of tin echoing against my ears. It’s obvious there isn’t any money in the box, but just aluminium foil. “If I give you two pennies, what will happen to the other one?” “Taxes.” There is a round of laughter and snickering as I say this, no seventh graders around. Of course they’d run away as soon as possible. It’s just like them to leave me suffering on stage with no support either than River. “Do you honestly want me to tell you what I think?” “Is the beautiful blueberry, the one which has such sweet extracts, blue?” “Nope. It’s technically purple. But I’ll take it as a yes.” I pause, scanning around the audience to watch them hold their breaths, ready to see what I’ve got prepared next. They’re all breathless, though half of them don’t even realise their actions. “You’re truly charmless.” “That’s Prince Charmless to you!” “Winston” yells after me, his fist banging in the air. But I’m already gone, flicking my hair about and pretending there’s a tiny squeaking which nobody can hear. There is a burst of applause, as Avril directs me backstage. “You were absolutely brilliant, Janie!” Her eyes, abruptly, grow wide as she clasps a hand over her mouth. “Donkey-ears-and-rabbit tongues. I have no clue about anything I’m supposed to do in the next scene.” She hesitates, scanning my eyes for any kind of recognition. “You know, how the witch casts that spell and then Winston’s the only one who can save Audia?” “How can I forget?” The look of horror vanishes, replacing with a sly smile which sends shivers running down my back. “Did you know about the kissing scene?”
In reaction, my jaw almost touches the ground. “What kissing scene!” It doesn’t even come out as a question, because after all, Sleepless Beauty ends with the prince kissing her. Right? But I didn’t expect Avril to add this to her play. “I am not kissing River!” "And I’m not kissing Jane,” a voice states. River walks in, his hands folded and a blank look in his eyes, not notifying me of any emotions crossing his face. “Never will.” “Exactly.” My head tilts the slightest with pride, but it doesn’t last long. Inside, I feel hurt as if somebody has slashed a knife through my hand. Because River just said he would never kiss me. Why would you care, Jane? A voice inside me snorts. What, do you suddenly find a need to kiss him? No. But the fact, he never will make me feel sick in the stomach. Did I just admit that within myself? EW! Gross! Ugh, what's happening to me? That list... I must keep thinking of that list of things I want in my future husband or boyfriend. Everything which River isn't. He must be mature... he must be perfect-faced... For some reason, my thoughts are suddenly interrupted by Sebastian sneezing behind me. Lulu glares at him. "Idiot!" She whacks him on the arm. "I could've caught that cold!" Sebastian says something in reply, but I don't hear it. It's probably unintelligent in first place -nothing productive ever comes from that boy's mouth. Especially how he denies liking Avril for almost a year. Well, it's not that simple to look into his life, but he and my best friend are perfect for each other. I clear my throat. “You know, if River doesn’t want to, he can easily quit the play.” I shoot him a dangerous look. “I mean, he’s been doing a good job of blackmailing people lately. Another job to add wouldn’t be too hard.” “She’s so mean,” mutters River, but shrugs his shoulders. “But yeah. I’ll be willing to quit this play if you make us.” He steals a glance at me. “I’m sure Jane won’t hesitate in joining me.” I want to tell him acting is my whole life, and I wouldn’t quit if the sky fell down. But this is a special occasion, so I keep my mouth shut. For the slightest of seconds, a smirk crosses my lips, my best friend staring at me with a frown on her own face, believing I truly will quit. Avril obviously doesn’t know me as well as I’d like to think. My best friend crosses her arms, clearly not impressed by our teamwork. Hey, isn’t she the perky one always telling us to work together in rehearsals? Typical. When River and I finally agree on the same thing, she seizes the opportunity to scold us. “You two are so low!”
“Says the chick who’s trying to make two people kiss,” says River, his eyes rolling. “You’re so inconsiderate sometimes.” Stopping our entire conversation, there is the slightest bit of giggling behind us. I spin around, watching both River and Avril do the same thing. The minute I observe where the tinkling laughter came from, I wished I never turned around in first place. There is an eye-destroying sight shown, as Sebastian has his hands around Lulu’s waist, their mouths pressing together and separating. On the purple couch with green polka-dots, the one I always sit on before performing. Now, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to look at it the same. Their mouths mush together, as I find the sudden need to give them privacy. But what about when Sebastian just sneezed? Surely, Lulu hasn't forgotten about how she can "catch a cold"? “Lu, Seb. Get a room, will you?” River says, shielding his eyes with a hand, an annoyed groan coming of his mouth. “It’s destroying the innocence of our eyes.” But it did far more to Avril, her arm muscles tightening. Although she’s never the violent type, I know she’s the hardest puncher I’ve ever met. Last year, when I stole her green hat, she almost knocked me out with a simple punch on the arm. The thing which amazes me most is how she doesn’t realize her own strength. From that day forward, she talked to me casually and laughed with me just like old times. Obliviously, she didn’t realize how I kept three meters away from her and gave hysterical laughter every now and then. The minute her eyes flashed, I know Lulu’s on her mental “to-kill” list. This makes my stomach clench, because nobody likes being knocked out, especially not the girly and paranoid Lulu. “Are you guys even going out?” I yell, louder than I intend. Avril’s anger is swirling around my mind, making it almost necessary to shout so loud. “Or are you just making out for the sake of it?” “We’re going out,” Sebastian says between kisses. This makes me want to vomit, as Lulu removes his glasses with a sly smile playing on her lips, her light hair flipping around the place. All of a sudden, I can’t help wondering where Lulu’s sudden fascination in Sebastian came from, because recalling the last time they behaved with each other; they used to avoid the other as much as possible. Not really hatred playing, but rather, ignorance to the other. Kind of like pretending to be surprised when notified of the other’s existence –trust me, I’d know.
“You know what, Seb?” Lulu whispers, but loud enough for all of us to hear. “I’ve never noticed how pretty your eyes were.” Avril snorts, her arms folded across her chest. “Just remember, Sebastian Meyer: I was the one who liked you when you were a complete nerd. Before everybody discovered your music.” “Somebody’s a little jealous, aren’t they?” Lulu says, rolling her eyes. A part of me feels mad also with Lulu. How dare she patronize my best friend like that! Especially after hitting on her crush and making out with Sebastian right in front of her. But another, more logical part of this situation fills me. Lulu’s only joking about the “jealous” part. She’s deathly loyal, and although can be a pain in the neck sometimes, she would never date somebody one of her friends fancies. It’s some sort of rule she abides, even though nobody really care if she does. So why doesn’t Avril just admit her feelings and get everything over with? She and Sebastian would make a cute couple, and I’m sure nobody can deny it. Unless, of course, she’s afraid of their friendship falling apart. But Avril is a daredevil, meaning she’s not afraid of anything. Besides onions, which she decides are the root of all evil, but nothing else. Easily enough, this all points to one conclusion. One which I have to admit is a vast majority of reasoning for my best friend’s suppressed confessions. She’s just too stubborn. “You know what, I’ve gotta go.” Sebastian kisses his girlfriend’s cheek for the last time. Lulu pouts at this, but doesn’t say anything. “Dad’s gonna be waiting for me outside.” He looks outside at the glistening sun. “We’ve gotta stop practicing after school. Because, you know, I’m missing out some valuable gym time.” He flexes his muscles. “I’m gonna get a bottle of water.” Yeah, I think bitterly. Because kissing takes up so much energy, doesn’t it, Lulu? She blows a kiss at Sebastian. “See you later, Seb.” On a more positive note, they haven’t started any sort of gross nicknames yet. But it’s only a matter of time… I stroll with Sebastian out to the car-park, as he looks at me with a huge grin. “I think I’m in love with Lulu.” “I think you’re in love with her lips.” He cocks his head to the side, his mouth twisting. “That too. But she’s amazing.”
“She’s also my cousin,” says a voice behind us. We both spin around at the same time, only to see River grinning at us. “So, am I interrupting anything here?” His voice drops. “You know Lulu wouldn’t be too impressed if I told her you were cheating on her?” Immediately, like a charm, we both shift away from each other like repelling magnets reacting to River’s words. “Nah, she wouldn’t.” But there’s something in Sebastian voice which makes it the slightest bit shrill or peculiar. Only because I’ve known him for so long, I’m able to detect the uncomfortable edge to his voice towards River. “You’re coming with me?” “Yup. Mum called to say she wouldn’t be able to pick me up. Some sort of women meeting going on until eight o’clock.” My mouth stifles a gasp. Mum left a note on the fridge, telling me I’ve got to ask somebody for a lift today. But how could I have forgotten? Insomnia: makes you forget things. I sigh. Perhaps my life is slowly and steadily breaking apart, all the pieces jumbled up. Now, it’s merely up to me to piece them together once more. The minute Sebastian says the word “dad” again, there’s an electric shock zigzagging through my heart, but I manage to control it. This is the same reaction I felt, but couldn’t bring myself to admit I was thinking of him. My father. The one who died so soon, and I never got the chance to properly say goodbye to him. Mum said there was something we needed to discuss after she comes back from the women’s meeting –I remember reading it on the fridge– but that I needed to get comfortable for the speech. Possibly some lame explanation of how they broke up, and blah-blah-blah. But of course they separated. When sleeping with the boy next door, it’s best to run as fast as possible. And never look back. Run like a coward and flee for life, away from civilization and take no pity to the baby produced. This whole concept causes tears to prick behind my eyelids. But I stay strong. Nobody can pull me down now. “Can I come with you, Seb?” His father is in his black sedan, waving his wrinkly hand out the window and motioning us to come along with him. “Mum’s at that meeting too.” “Sure. But you’ll have to stay until eight.”
We walk towards the car, and I can’t help my heart leaping. Foolish Jane, I scold myself for being so unnaturally happy, but I can’t help the feeling washing over me like a Mexican wave. Everything’s going so flawlessly and easily, I feel light. My father may be dead, but it’s not like he mattered in first place. He left my mum after doing things –rather graphic things– to her. Nothing can spoil today, because I’m not going to be at Sebastian’s house. It’s currently five o’clock, meaning I’ll be there for a whole three hours. Three hours with Sebastian, his house and his father. And also three hours with River.
Both River and I are sitting on the sofa, him going through some novel and me knitting a scarf. Well, I’m trying to knit it, but I seem to be failing. Sebastian’s father says that knitting is a quality which should be applying to all females, but Sebastian thinks it’s only because his father can’t knit, he wants the whole world to be able to. It strikes me a little strange at how casually Mr. Meyer told me this fact; without any shame or care about how he’s pretty much making me do something against my will. But now I’m here, I guess the least I can do is try. “Ooh,” River finally says, looking up from his novel and making me jump internally. “Miss. Jane isn’t so perfect no more.” He sticks his tongue out at me, being as immature as he’s always been. But I can’t help smiling inside. He’s so cute when he– Uh-oh. I’m not going there. You’re not obsessed with boys, Jane, a small voice says with a snort. Breathe. He’s not that good looking, anyway. Right. “Do you think we could practice our lines? I pretty much fail at it.” “Sure,” I say, my enthusiasm causing River to blink and sway backwards the slightest. “I need to get out of doing this,” I say, my eyes pointedly darting to the knitting needles in front of me. Or rather, what was in front of me? Now, there is a giant ball of yarn tangled among the needles which were once there. “Let’s go.” We both bring out scripts, and I can’t help my heart doing a backflip. I’m rehearsing with River right now. Everything, besides the fact my father is dead and my mother doesn’t care less about me, is going right. Heck, things would be even better if I was born into a different family. One with an older brother –will always help me solve problems, but won’t be after my clothes– and adoring parents who’re madly in love with each other. That’s all I need for my life to be perfect. According to Avril, I already am. But according to me, there’s so much left until I’m ready to admit my flawlessness. And I know they’re things I can’t change. No matter how much I try. Perhaps River will have all the attention in this play. But I’m the main role. Without Sleepless Beauty, there wouldn’t be a prince. What’s the point of reading about a prince who never sleeps? This is something I’ve realized. It doesn’t matter whether River is better than me at acting or otherwise, but the fact I have the main role also confirms I have more power. Dominant over every crew member.
As long as I keep my role, I’m the one everybody’s going to be staring at in awe. The fact makes me smile. Maybe it’s a little arrogant and selfish to expect so much, but I’m the one who deserves this role. There’s no time for anybody to replace me, and I know it. So why do I suddenly feel so empty? Like somebody has taken a big chunk out of my stomach and never returned it. My heart begins beating faster than I ever thought possible, until I’m sure it’s about to explode out of my chest. Anxiety. But for what? The play? I never get stage fright. I’m just afraid; I’m going to lose everything I’ve ever loved. My father, my hobbies, and the little respect I get from my mother. Everything just vanishing. Of course, this is merely ridiculous and I’m scared. Frightened everything is going to spin around, when in fact, nothing’s going to happen. So why do I feel like my whole body has been ripped to shreds, when there isn’t much to rip in first place? “You, my dearest Audia, should…” He squints his eyes at the piece of paper. “…Know what things are like. For you are my goodness, my everything. If anybody, you should be the one realizing my love for you.” My eyes furrow the slightest. The writing is massive –Avril thinks making text bigger makes something easier to memorize– so why does it take him so much narrowing of eyes to work out what the letters create? After all, part of being an actress is that reading skills are the essential. “River,” I say gently. “Do you need help pronouncing any of the words?” “No.” He raises his head stubbornly, death-glaring me. “I’m perfectly content. After all, I’m the one who wanted to practice. I can read words.” “I never said you couldn’t.” “Really?” His face is sneering, almost mocking. My head suppresses thoughts on how his moods have changed. How has everything differed so fast? About two minutes ago, he was teasing me about not being able to knit. “Because you sure to act like it.” Sebastian walks down the stairs, his hair wet from the shower, only to see us look at each other with hatred. He appears a little taken back, before sighing. “That’s it. Break it up, you two. Now you’re sounding like complete lunatics.” All of a sudden, every bit of anger I’ve been avoiding facing myself with, comes rushing to me. How dare he tell me I’m mental! “You can’t talk!” I half-scream. “Just make-out with Lulu right in front of Avril, why don’t you?” “Avril likes you,” River says, turning around to face Sebastian. “And you choose my cousin over her.”
“Hey.” He holds up his hands defensively. “Suddenly I’m the bad guy here. You two are absolutely mental.” But instead of feeling guilty over something I didn’t do, my hands clench into fists. Ready to hit Sebastian. A part of me gasps at that thought, but I don’t drop it. Everything seems to turn white, dizzying almost. I’m ready to hit somebody, and I’ve never felt this. It’s like a new version of Jane has formed; one which isn’t afraid to let her emotions show, doesn’t feel guilt. But of course, doesn’t listen to anybody. Because I’m sick of it. Tediously hearing every complaint, problem and suggestion in the world, only to have nobody there for me when I need it. Then there are people like River, who’re bright enough to realise I’m not myself, but not clever enough to investigate. For goodness sake, I could be plotting to commit suicide and nobody would care! Then it hits me. I’m not going to end my life, but make people think it. All the sickos who make people think there’s something wrong with them, are always cared for. Loved. Wouldn’t my mother cuddle me every night if she knew I was about to end my life? But first of all, I needed some sort of ploy. Something obvious and show the signs. Insomnia. I can’t sleep. Why can’t it be because I’m secretly planning something before bed? Something too horrifying to sleep through? It’ll be a valid excuse. Feeling the scheme build up on its own, I say, “Sebastian, tell your father I want to go back home.” He looks baffled. “But –but your mum isn’t home.” “I know that. Just take me home.” Before I know it, I’m standing in front of my house with a key in my hand. The one which Mum made a copy of to keep in my pocket. All of a sudden, I’m tempted to drop it on the ground. Stamp on it. Let everything I’ve been hiding free. Because I’m sick of everything. Sick of being perfect, or rather, what other people think is flawless. At one time, before River came to this town, I believed people when they said I was perfect. Foolish girl! Flawless. Not Jane Everett. She has enough flaws to ruin her life, although they’re not obvious to the naked eye. People are envious of my high grades, acting skills. And yet, they’re the one with the happy family. Love from the person they care for most. Somebody to talk to.
All of a sudden, I feel ready to talk to William. He ended our conversations so long ago; it’s easy to assume he hates me. But what if my prediction is right and it is River? Abruptly, I realize I don’t care who it is. I need somebody to talk to. A strangled sob escapes my mouth. Anybody. Just somebody to notice everything I’ve been through. Take compassion for me. But who is there to listen to my problems? What is out there, something human, which I can talk to? Animals never reply. Objects such as lights will only stare. I’m locked up in my own prison, except nobody but me realizes. River. He just had to convince me to practice that play. If it wasn’t for our disagreement, perhaps I’d still be at Sebastian’s house, laughing with him. Maybe I’d open up to River, who’d listen to me. Unlike Sebastian, he’s serious when he wants to be; unlike Avril, his solution won’t revolve around the word “suicide.” Then I identify something, which makes my head snap up. It was my fault. This whole thing is my fault. How can I blame River for anything? It’s not his fault; he’s not curious or nosey enough to investigate into my life. Ultimately, it’s not anybody who matters. It’s myself. I’m the only one who cares for others, and the one taking concern for myself. Regardless of so much going on in my life, I know I have to meet River today. His family’s happiness depends on me. All of a sudden, I feel a pang of understanding. The first time he came into the coffee shop, with no other knowledge of me besides the fact I’m good at science –he did that for his family. Not knowing what I’d be like. What if I was an axe murderer? He wouldn’t know, would he? However, he still sacrificed his well-being and health for his family. So why shouldn’t I help? I’ve already lost my family, all kinds of connections. My older brother doesn’t even know I exist, and if he does, he hasn’t been doing a good job of showing it. Mother never takes the time to know her own daughter, absentmindedly doing things and always leaving me out her life. Like I’m a mistake. Needless to say, I’ve already lost my family. But I can stop River from losing his. * When he sees me walking towards him in my usual outfit, he lifts his head from his elbow to gape at me. But it doesn’t last long, converting into a goofy smile. “I didn’t think you’d make it.”
“Neither did I, to be honest.” The coffee shop, as usual, is empty with the exception of the worker yawning at the counter, waving at me. I wave back before sitting opposite of a stunned River. “But you know; guilt destroys arguments. I guess I needed to get your family together.” I pause. “Even though, I don’t have a grip on mine.” “Thank you, Jane.” He appears as if he genuinely means it. “I –I seriously don’t know how to thank you.” “Oh, please. Don’t get so touchy. I’ve got my dinner to keep in my stomach.” The tiniest of smiles form on his face. “Okay. Next, we need a handful of candy hearts.” When he sees my raised eyebrows, he sighs. “You heard me. It shouldn’t be too hard to find, should it? Just going to the twenty-fourhour shop might help.” He pulls out a brown bag, heavily decorated with white stripes. “This has the bowling pin in it. And everything else.” “How did you manage to get the bowling pin?” “I took it when Seb wasn’t looking. That boy is sometimes so…” “Clueless?” “Precisely.” We both laugh aloud at this joke, but not because of the humour. More that we’re comfortable with each other and the argument is truly behind us. Well, for now anyway. Until one of us gets bi-polar again and everything flips upside down. Knowing River, it won’t take much hesitation at all to make him mad. He’s got the temper and snappiness of a crocodile, despite appearing so naive and clueless at other times. There are so many sides to this one boy; I can't help wondering which side is the genuine version. It's just like the question William Reef asked me over the internet: Who is River Mullaney? Is he an actor? Does he have a mask? Maybe he's just like me on the inside -looks like he has everything together but is falling apart on the inside. But I can't assumptions like these. No, I simply mustn’t. There are some things which I can't assume. Maybe I'm quick to judge and narrow-minded at times, however, somebody's past isn't something which I should be predicting. I should listen to it straight form River's mouth. Only then do I realise how I want to know him. I want to figure out every detail about him. Why this sudden fascination and urge crossed me, I have no clue. But it makes me want to learn about him. Why not find out every single detail about him?
“So” He stands up from his seat, sliding down the long seat until he’s free. “What’re we waiting for?” As I follow him, I realize something I never wanted to admit to myself. When he buys the candy hearts, I laugh for no reason. Because now, although I’d never bring myself to admit it out loud, another thing has sprung up. There are a lot of things I’ve never identified. There was the time back so many years ago, when Tia was conning me just for the sake of it. And now, there’s River, who I’m slowly beginning to understand, piece by piece. Although I won’t ever confess, there’s no denying how I’ve never realized this. Just how much I like him.
“Jane, I have something to tell you.” The tone of my mother’s voice is gentle this Saturday morning, as I pour milk over my cornflakes. My hand stirs the silver spoon around and around, yawning while doing so. Everything around me appears so dull; I can’t help wishing I could watch a movie, but I hate watching movies during daytime. I can’t concentrate. Perhaps I’ll gather a heart-broken Avril and head to the local theatre, hoping she doesn’t fill in on details about Sebastian. Just thinking of him makes my stomach churn. I don’t regret what I said about him not noticing Avril, but I’m more than sure my I-hate-boys-because-they’re-stinky-and-immature best friend would have different opinions of my sudden babble. “Go ahead.” I swallow the mouthful of cornflakes in my mouth. “It’s about Dad, isn’t it?” “Yes.” She bites her lip, opening her mouth to say something, but then taking second thoughts and closing it. “There’s something about your father, I hadn’t quite been clear of with you. When Sebastian’s mum was talking to me at the meeting, she was telling me about how he tells Sebastian everything about his family. Now, it’s my turn to be honest.” This catches my attention as I snap my head up, frowning. “He… Your father… never left you.” She sighs, scanning my eyes as if preparing me for something. Only when she gives me a strange look, do I realize I’m holding my breath. I let out all the air with a loud whoosh. “I was the one who left him. Kicked him out of the house, even though he wanted to stay with you. He never left you, Jane.” Everything is vanishing from my sanity. I hold back urges to scream out at her, yell out what I really think of her. Remind her he was the only person who treated me like a human being until she drove him away. And somehow, I managed to contain myself. To show how mature I am –not screaming out like a total idiot. Instinctively, I clap my hand over my forehead. “I’ll be in my room,” I mumble. “Just need some time alone.” Before she can nod or have any kind of reaction, I’m already slamming the door, despite all efforts to remain responsible.
How could she do that to me? I think, tears forming in my eyes. But I blink them back until my eyes are clear once more. Jane Everett never cries. All of a sudden, my father’s not the bad guy anymore. The black clothes I always imagine him in are now a bright white, almost too bright for me to imagine. My mother is wearing the dark outfit. She’s the guilty one. You always see in black and white, don’t you, Jane? Sebastian’s voice floats in my mind. He said that to me last year, while debating who we liked and didn’t like from our school. For me, there was no middle. Everyone was either completely good or utterly bad. Now, the gift is coming in handy. Because I can easily label my mother as a villain –separating me from my father. I’m willing to bet the only reason she never told me all this time, is because she was afraid I might try to find him. Live with him, even, and decide I wanted him more than her. But why would this bother her in any kind of way? She hates me, right? Simple. She hates me, but is afraid of losing. Surrendering in some sickish game she’s playing; one where the person who falls the hardest is the loser. She’s not about to admit to anything. Feeling rather shaken, I log onto the computer, my mind only half-set on what I’m doing next. So many things changed in those five minutes. At the start of this morning, I thought of my mother as a hardworking and absentminded single parent, who although doesn’t always give me attention, is always by my side when I need her. Now, I’m not sure if I can face her again. Typing in Diamond Movie Theatre, I search for what movies are available at this time. I need to relax with Avril, some way or another. No way am I letting a confession ruin my whole life, especially from somebody I barely care about. My mother could exit this house at this current second and no empathy will be shown. This is how much I hate her. Every bone in her body. Blood, Sweat and Tears – Directed by Paul Bradman and Jenna Colvatore I don’t bother reading the description, even though I know it’s a mistake to not comprehend what I’m about to watch. But this doesn’t stop me mentally choosing this movie over any others. Picking up my phone, I call Avril. Again, I do the freaky breathing thing, only so she knows it’s me. “Jane.” It’s not even a question, and I imagine her rolling her eyes. “What’s up?” For somebody whose truelove had found another, she sure sounds cheerful. “Um, could you make it to a movie today? I just feel like kicking back.”
“Sure.” She pauses. “Pickled-onions-in-the-middle-of-a-desert; no, I can’t. I’m so sorry, Jane! But you know the Brovilles?” She shudders, making me feel cold also. “Brovilles” are the names she gave to her cousins, both boys and two years apart; one is eight and the other, four. “Bro” for “brothers” and “ville” because they’re seriously evil. “Well… I kinda have to babysit them for the entire night.” “What a waste of a Saturday!” “Tell me about it. But hey, uh, I’m sure River will be interest–” “No.” “Why not?” Wow. Somehow, she manages her voice to sound like a kindergartener. “You guys are so cute together!” “Just no. Oh, look! Mum’s calling me, I’ve gotta go.” “Jan–” I hang up before she can finish saying my name. Breathing out in relief, I realize how much I loathe people calling River and I a “perfect” couple. All we do is hang out together in a coffee shop, go bowling together that one time, and rehearse lines at Sebastian’s house… I gulp. No wonder people think of us like that! Come to think of it, if I were the third person, this’d be exactly what I’d assume; how can two people, who spend so much time together, not be romantically involved with one another? The fact I’m ever thinking about River in that way makes my stomach ready to compress. But for now, I need a ploy to get back Sebastian and Lulu to break up once and for all. It’s not only because Avril’s my best friend, but the fact Lulu doesn’t realize how shallow she’s being. She doesn’t like Sebastian for who he is; she likes him for the musician side, which is barely all of him. If somebody doesn’t separate them soon, both of their hearts will be broken. Since I have no time to kill, and a mother who just admitted to throw out the only person who ever cared about me, I might as well make this worthwhile. Heading out of the room, I burst out the door in my normal clothes, not even turning back to look at my mother. She’s possibly drinking her favourite addiction –honey and cinnamon tea, which I absolutely find disgusting. The smell of tea and coffee is nice to me, but I hate drinking it for some reason.
The taste repulses me more than words can explain, even though coffee’s all I drink during my “all-nighters.” Or maybe it’s the fact Avril can “taste” the caffeine in both drinks which makes me psychologically ill, and completely against both drinks. When I’m in front of the park, my arms cross as I see Sebastian sitting on a park-bench, speaking into a receiver of a phone with a goofy smile on his face. Needless to say, it’s Lulu on the other end; probably feeding some lame compliments to my best guy-friend. Ones which she doesn’t even mean, but Avril, the person who always puts meaning behind her words, is to stubborn to admit. “Oh, hey there, Seb,” I say, a phony grin on my face as if I haven’t been stalking him. It’s not my fault I know him so well; he’s the only one lame enough to spend his Saturdays at the park, watching birds with those goofy binoculars of his. Somehow, it has become his routine and I catch him every time I arrive to the park on a Saturday. “How are you?” For once, he doesn’t have the green-and-white pair of binoculars in his hands. Probably because it’s the number one technique to drive females away. Unless, they’re Avril. But ever since she showed signs of affection towards this boy, I’m not quite sure she’s one-hundred percent human. Must be some sort of alien from the planet Zorba. “Whatcha doing here, Jane?” Now that you mention it, I think bitterly. I was thinking the exact same thing. “Oh, you know. Just hanging about… here and there. Everywhere.” I begin snorting like an idiot without any intentions to stop. Amused, Sebastian raises one of his thin eyebrows. “Get it? That rhyme? Old McDonald?” “Yeah, I get it.” He still hasn’t stopped grinning. Sometimes, he irritates me so much. “Lulu’s on her way.” He pauses. “I… I think it’s best if you don’t sit next to me. It might make her jealous. Not because we’re going out, but because she’s jealous of you in particular.” “Lulu is jealous of me?” “Apparently she can’t have a normal conversation with River anymore without your name brought up.” A mischievous smile plays on his lips. “Tell your boyfriend to stop being so obsessive, ‘kay?” I elbow him in the ribs, being thankful that he can’t see my face turning scarlet from under my dark skin. “River’s not talking about me. He hardly knows me!”
“Of course, Lulu might just be lying to try and get me to hate you. She doesn’t like you much. You should hear the stuff she says behind your back.” He laughs, but it slowly fades. “Which I’m not going to tell you, since you pretended that Avril liked me.” He shakes his head. “What kind of sick joke is that?” “Tragically, a very true one.” It’s hilarious; I have to admit, watching Sebastian’s look of disgust turn into horror. But I quickly change the subject. “Why does Lulu hate me? Besides the River factor, I mean.” “Se-ab!” A familiar, girlish voice yells. “How’re you, my awesome musician?” He gives me an apologetic smile before running to Lulu, his glasses falling slightly on his nose. Right then, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything more disgusting. The way they charged towards each other, like the whole world is some sort of romance movie. I can tell them it isn’t. All romantic bones in one’s body disappears the minute somebody’s father leaves them, brother doesn’t acknowledge they exist and mother doesn’t love them. The fact they’re so worriless and carefree is the reason they go out, seeking for love. How can Lulu be jealous of me? Perhaps I appear like an actor who gets what she wants, when she does. But that’s just on stage. Doesn’t she realize I’m the director of my own life, and how badly I’m controlling it? How I let little things affect me, and am naïve enough to believe that overruling cousin so many years ago. Because in my own time, nothing– My last thought is broken off as River strides up to me, his neat hair blown by the wind and made messy. Right over those electrical, blue eyes which are bright enough to hypnotize me. “And so we meet again.” “So it seems,” I chant, almost mesmerized. He grins at this, leaning against the frame of the bench, his arms folded. I blink. “What are you doing here?” I say, rather peevishly. “Ah. There’s the old Jane. Glad to know you’re back.” “Wish I could say the same thing about you.” “Ouch. That almost hurt.” I half-smile. “So what’s this I hear about Lulu not having one decent convo with you without involving me?”
The cool and relaxed expression he had a few seconds ago vanishes quicker than I can blink. I guess this makes me more devilish, as I can practically feel my eyes shine brighter than ever possible. River coughs a couple of times, rather uncomfortably. Whatever impression he was attempting to hold as the “hippy-guy” turns out for him to turn into a nervous wreck. But because he’s an actor, he quickly covers it with no effort. “Lies.” “Sure.” “They are.” “I believe you.” He narrows his eyes. “You sure don’t sound like it.” “I’m sure not thinking it either. But hey, this is where acting comes into life, right?” “I hate you.” Sticking his tongue out to show his mature side, he walks off. But not before flashing me a hint of a smile, just long enough to show me he doesn’t mean it. Shaking my head, I beam despite my efforts. I turn my head around, just in time to see Sebastian and Lulu’s mouths molding together, trying to taste every bit of the other’s mouth. Looking away, I’m sure this image will scar me for life. Kissing is so overrated these days. Sure, perhaps I’ve already had two kisses from different people in my life, but both incidentally. Michael, the diner in our play, when he was dared back in seventh grade. And Sebastian when he needed to reject RaeLyn, the girl who wouldn’t stop stalking him, and we pretended to date so she’d stop following him. That didn’t end well, for she moved to Adelaide in tears. Not for that reason, of course, but because her parents needed another job. Still, she left in tears. As I watch them, I hold one conclusion. I’m never going to kiss a boy on purpose. Never going to let them kiss me, either.
We’re at the coffee shop, as River looks through the list with an unfathomable expression. “We’re got another three ingredients to go,” he says. “I’ve already bought the chemicals yesterday afternoon. All we have left is…” “…A strand of hair from one who serves,” I read. “And a chain from which you can sit on but move around in.” I shake my head, slamming the piece of paper on River’s side. “How old are you, eight? This is never going to work!” “If there was an alternative solution, don’t you think I would’ve done it by now?” His eyes are gleaming. “You know how I feel, Jane.” Shaking my head like a maniac, I’m starting to think this agreement was a mistake. “No, I don’t. Whatever you’re feeling, don’t bring me into this.” Standing up, I stroll to the counter and ask for a coffee. Not that I’m hungry or need the extra source of caffeine, but more needing to escape River’s deep thoughts. What makes him think I’m anything like him? I wonder to myself as the worker builds the coffee for me, her ponytail swishing back and forth. The good thing about this twenty-four-hour coffee shop is how many different people work through the nights. I’m willing to bet they all suffer from insomnia. “You know the feeling of your mother always on your back, don’t you?” a voice whispers in my ear, the warmth tickling me enough to shiver. “The fact nothing’s going right in your life. Where nothing but plain air catches you when you fall.” Normally, I would’ve thought nothing of his statement and just denied it. But something struck a chord through my heart right then, as it thumps against my chest. There’s no denying he’s the so-called William. If I don’t warn him in any kind of way, what will happen? He’ll reveal all my thoughts to the whole school, and when somebody as bold and uncaring as River knows my deepest, darkest secrets… I’m pretty much doomed. But regardless of what I’m thinking, I decide it’s best to play dumb. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “Sure.”
It’s the same tone I used yesterday, I recognize so familiarly. The way I denied what he was thinking in a playful attitude, not letting him sneak in a word without my mocking. But he wasn’t playing around. I know he would do whatever it takes to torture me. But why? Why does he care about anything happening in my life? Shouldn’t he just lay back and pretend to never meet me in first place? Taking no notice of the thoughts swirling my head, I clear my throat. “Are you the so-called William?” His answer shocks me. “No.” So he truly isn’t William? I inspect his face, trying to find out anything hinting he might be lying. But nothing comes into perspective, as I realize I’ve overreacted. Although I don’t know River for long, I understand him enough to realize he would never hold back to confessing. If he truly did commit a crime of any sort, he would’ve told me already. This isn’t something I’m making up on the spot; it’s factual. The cruel, brutal truth. There’s somebody out there –somebody who isn’t River Mullaney– who’s spreading all of my personal stuff. What if they have a million “best friends” and tell every one of them about the details of Jane Everett’s life. William wouldn’t do that. But why would I trust him? After all, he’s the one who stopped our conversations. Not blocked me or anything, but was never online. Maybe I scared him off with something I said. Or perhaps, just probably, they’re starting a new fake account to trick some other unfortunate person into sharing details with me. The thought is enough to make my blood boil, but I don’t say my thoughts aloud. I’m too sophisticated. Taking my coffee from the worker’s hands, I stroll over to my seat and watch River follow me. “How ‘bout I help you get the ingredients?” I say, not daring to look at the smirk on his face. Because right now, I don’t care what happens. So long as he doesn’t get any satisfaction from me, whatsoever. “Strand of hair from one who serves: let’s get it from the worker in this café.” “Hmm. Let me show you how it would sound: ‘Excuse me, miss, but we need a strand of your hair so we can mix it into a potion and stop my parents hating each other, because after all, it works.” He rolls his eyes skyward. “We have to figure out a better plan.” Ten minutes later, we find the perfect ploy towards taking a strand of hair from that worker’s head. Actually, it’s not that perfect, and possibly full of flaws. But there’s no other way around this certain ingredient for River’s “wonderful” potion. With my mouth plastered into a fake smile, I say to the worker, “Hello there. We were wondering if we could have a sample of your hair.”
River’s mouth drops, wanting to tell me this wasn’t part of the plan. The urge to roll my eyes overcomes me, but somehow I fight it. The girl looks the slightest bit freaked out –then again, who wouldn’t? –before fetching scissors from inside the shop, chopping off a strand of her hair and giving it to us. River’s face is expressionless, but anybody can tell he’s grudgingly impressed. After all, I’ve saved the entire babble he made up about aliens taking over the world, and how one strand of hair can save us all. “You’re a really bad liar,” I say as we’re heading out of the doors, the strand of hair tucked safely in a reusable bag. We’re heading to our next item, which simply enough is the swing on the playground; the one we pass everyday while I’m riding with him on the skateboard. “No.” He looks away when my quizzical eyes face him, but neither of us stops walking. “I’m a really good one.” Everything River says intrigues me further to whatever I want to find out, even though it’s none of my business. Guess it’s just my natural instinct playing up, curiosity from my mother. Just thinking of her makes me flinch, but again, the smile on my face remains. Nobody can see the pain, and although River saw the slightest bit into my true feelings, he didn’t ask me further about everything. How I’m sick of holding on, because everything is twirling. Like an anti-clockwise spinning top, without any intention of stopping. “Come to think of it.” All of a sudden, he stops. Confused by his abrupt decision, I halt my footsteps mutually. “You’re a good one too, Jane.” This time he doesn’t hide his face, and does quite the opposite by staring at me, straight in the eyes. “How am I good one?” My acting skills are the only things which are holding me from falling from shock. The thought he’s reading my mind right now makes shivers run up my spinal cord. Does he know what I’m thinking? My heart skips a beat, but I don’t bother controlling it. “You don’t know me.” “Perhaps not. But I know you’re an actress. Sometimes, I feel as if your cheeriness…” He waves his hands about, gesturing to what, I have no clue. But either way he has my undivided attention, as I wait for him to complete that sentence. Shoot the coldest words known to human kind, making me flinch until my body ends up in a shudder. When he doesn’t, I say, “Yes? What do you think of my cheeriness?”
There is a wave of colour shown under the dawning sun; fast but slow enough for me to catch in his electricblue eyes. His words make me shudder, and although it’s what I’m expecting, they make my breathing stop for the slightest second. “It’s all an act.” He pauses, inspecting my eyes for any change in expression. But I fail to display defeat, still standing with my eyes blank. “Am I right, Miss. Everett?” * “Hi ya, Jane!” Michael waves like a maniac, winking at me before disappearing around the hallway. “See you at rehearsals.” If my eyes can grow wider, I’m willing to hand three-hundred dollars to the opposing person. I’ve completely forgotten about the play practicing! What am I supposed to do? Feeling rather overwhelmed and anxious, I drop all my books on the floor. The lunch bell has just rung, meaning everybody is crowding around, pushing against each other to get to their locker and feast on their food. The one they have no intention on eating through the day, but then again, still eat it due to peer pressure. Before I bend down to pick up my books, I see another pair of hands lifting all of my books and giving them to me. Looking up, River’s boyish smirk is the only thing in my view. “Jane Everett? Dropping her books?” Dramatically, he raises a hand to his forehead. “Where has this world come to?” “Something you’re not involved in.” With a smile playing on my lips, I stick my tongue out at him. “Come to think of it, did you know about rehearsals?” Everything is so casual, and I even find myself forgetting everything happening yesterday. When I spilled out everything to River, who simply sat next to me and listened. But unlike what was expected, he didn’t just “listen.” He understood. Comprehended why I needed to sleep over at his house in order to worry the daylights out of my mother and make her realise. Recognise the love she holds for me, even though she never admits it. Thinking about it makes my fists clench into balls, ready to attack anything in front of me. For some reason, I feel like all my secrets have been revealed for the first time. But told to the friendly public; one which doesn’t judge me.
River does the best job of never judging people. It’s one of the things I admire about him. Of course, I’d never tell him that; it’s the number one method for him to grow a big head. “Yup. They told us, remember? Yesterday? You were there.” Groaning, I pick up my apple to take a bit out of it, but before it can reach my lips, the bell rings. River waves a pathetic excuse for a wave, while I wistfully place the apple back into my lunchbox, gathering my equipment for English. Sometimes, I feel as if school is about training us for our elderly years; everything feels so rushed. At the start of this high-school, everything was different. A change, even. But now, everything seems tedious and unnecessary. Sitting in the English class, it was the same things all over again. The teacher picking me to answer all the questions, even if I don’t have my hand up in the air. I guess it’s the best way to save time; with some of the useless answers received from pupils at this school, I would’ve done the same thing in his position. Every answer would have a nerve barging out of my forehead if I were to receive incorrect ones. Or completely ridiculous statements. People in my class aren’t really listening to the teacher –playing with their pencils and staring at the clock, predicting when the bell rings seems to be more appealing. The moment arrives as the bells ring, and everybody rushes out without waiting for the teacher a second longer. Not bothering to look back for the weary expression they usually have, I take out my script for the play and head towards the production theatre. “Hi ya, Jane.” When I arrive, everybody is in their places. Wow, I think to myself. That was quick. Lulu, the one who just spoke up, smiles one of her giggly grins at me. One which tells me there are a change of plans, making my heart sink. What is it this time? Are they firing me somehow? “There has been a change of plans…” “…Yeah.” Sebastian looks uncomfortable, scratching his light-brown hair. “That. We’re having Audia sing a solo for the play.” “I remember primary school,” adds Lulu quickly. “We had that talent show and you came first with your singing. So it shouldn’t be too much of a problem, should it?” “No, of course not,” I lie. “But I’ve got a cold right now. It’s best not to damage my voice.” They nod with looks of understanding crossing their faces, and although I should be relived, all I can think of is the change. Everything goes smoothly; I remember all of my lines, River’s brilliant acting blows everybody onto another planet.
But the nagging sensation bites at the back of my head. They’ve pulled me into a solo by myself, only because they know I can sing. However, I can’t. That was lip-syncing back in primary school –well, the one Lulu and I went to, anyway. Before we came to the same high school, we both went to the same primary school, just out of town. Mutual. She doesn’t know how I only entered that competition to prove a point to the racist Nanette Racer, who thought dark-skinned people such as me, had no talent. And although I didn’t, it never stopped me from attaching the microphone in a special way, so my voice wasn’t the one projecting. It was somebody else’s. Right now, I wish I could take it all back. And then the words hit me like a bolt of lightning, causing my heart to stop for the slightest of seconds. If I can’t fulfil the duties for my part, I’ll have to quit the play.
River raises the yogurt-loaded spoon to his mouth, a smug expression plastered on his face. This is enough for me to scowl, almost throwing my tub of yogurt at his face. Elise is playing with her minidolls, making them do various things I’d never dream of doing. It makes me feel almost relieved I’m not a doll –or more specifically, hers. Feeling shudders seize through me, I watch as she picks them up and drops them with a hard landing. “It’s not funny, River.” “You can’t sing. Why wouldn’t it be funny?” As if to exaggerate his point, he snorts into laughter, stunning me the slightest. It’s amazing how the weirdest things make him laugh. “Has anybody told you have the quirkiest sense of humour?” “Too many times to count.” He wipes his mouth to get rid of all excess yogurt, displaying all the freckles around his mouth area. There was even some yogurt on his cheeks –how he managed that, I have no idea– which he wipes off also. “The solution is easy. I’m surprised you haven’t thought of it already.” He pauses to make a more dramatic entrance into his next sentence. “Just lip-sync at your part as well.” Although this sounds extremely stupid, the thought hadn’t crossed my mind the slightest. He seems to sense my stupidity, his crooked grin forming on the corner of his lips once more. Resisting the urge to slap him, I try to find other ways to dispose this idea. Perhaps some flaws in the plan, so the smirk on River’s face isn’t as wide as I would like it. “But that’s not fair to the people who look up to me. They’ll think I’m such a great singer, when in reality, I sound like a choking ostrich.” “Yet, it didn’t stop you from claiming Sebastian’s notebook last year, stealing all of his ideas and use them towards your class-captain campaign.” Simply, he ignores my gaping mouth, which appears as if somebody had thrown something at it. “You let your audience think that they were all your ideas.” He raises his eyebrows. “That’s not giving anybody the wrong idea, is it, Jane?” There’s a knot in my stomach. I feel helpless as if ties all my inner-organs together in a large ball, churning them together and mashing. Like potatoes preparing to get fried. How does he know that? Maybe it’s true, but it was
all because of a dare. Lulu was feeling particularly competitive and daring, making me do that. If not, my punishment was to kiss him instead. Not only would that be one of the most repulsive incidents in my pathetic lifetime, but it’d also drive my best friend away from me. Because Avril still had a major crush on him, even for so long. The only person, who knows about this, besides Avril, is… William. And now, apparently very obvious to the eye, River. It drives me insane how there is a William which River knows –somebody who’s so close to him, that they tell him everything. All details about me and my personal life have been revealed to somebody else. And I didn’t even know it, until the stranger begins living in my town and blackmailing my friends about not doing the play. There is no evidence on who it may possibly be, which irritates me enough that I could hit a wall. “William.” Although I say that through gritted teeth, and it’s supposed to be a guess towards River’s sources, it doesn’t sound like it. Because I know it is him. And judging by how much William never told me about his life –about River, the fact he’s going to block me later on– makes me wonder whether he is actually a real person. Maybe he’s some creepy old guy who is stalking teenagers for the sake of it. Or perhaps it’s not even a “he.” The fact it’s a demented female on the other side is not far from impossible. “And we have a winner.” It sounds very dull in the tone he’s using, as if he expects me to guess it. “Don’t worry. It’s going to be really easy to lip-sync.” He grabs my hand all of a sudden. “But first off, you need practice on stage.” Without telling me where we’re going, he pretty much drags me along with him –out the elegant, seven panel front door and passing the stony pavement. The fence creaks but he doesn’t bother to shut it as he races. Faster than lightning clashing on a herd of baby elephants. Finally, letting me catch my breath for the slightest of seconds, he lets go of my hand and points at the object in front of him dramatically. My jaw drops. A red and black motorcycle stands in front of me, the glossy colour causing the sun to reflect. Because it’s Thursday, all the shops are open until nine o’clock. It doesn’t trouble me the sun is already setting. “Here.” He throws me a helmet. “Climb on.”
I place the helmet on my head. “Wait, what are we doing?” “Just trust me.” “I wish I could,” I mutter as I unwillingly sit behind him, lightly grasping on his shoulders. The fact I may have to hold onto him for dear life makes me wince, so I start off not touching him much at all. Actually, I’m a leaning back as far as possible without falling backwards completely. When he starts the motorcycle, my whole heart does a flip as we speed down the street at full-blast. The way River is steering the motorcycle is awkward, making me certain I’m not getting out of this incident with my head and body attached. “Do you even know how to drive a motorcycle?” I yell over the traffic caused by cars and trucks; all vehicles on the road. There are the angry blasts of car-horns, shooting straight at my face and causing me to lose the slightest bit of hearing. “Because it sure doesn’t seem like it!” “Maybe I don’t,” he shouts back, racing to full-speed as soon as the traffic-lights show the “green.” He doesn’t even let me catch my breath, as we zoom through many streets and roads. Abruptly, he stops as fast as he began, startling me by the sudden break. “We’re here.” “Gregory’s Shopping Centre? You have got to be joking.” “I never kid. They’re holding some sort of talent show which is raising money. It costs one dollar to watch and two dollars to perform. They accept anybody who’s here.” “So why are we…?” I stop, gaping at his smug face and crossed arms. Realisation spreads over me. “So you expect me to sing in front of so many people!” It wasn’t a question –heck, I didn’t even bother making it sound like one. “You’re insane.” “And you can’t believe in yourself.” He grabs my elbow roughly, dragging me along with him. “Now, c’mon.” All of a sudden, as he’s trailing me behind him, my heart flitters for some reason. He truly cares about me if he’s ready to sacrifice so much time, merely to help me. This time could be spent playing a game. Studying. Talking to somebody else. Practicing for the play.
And over everything, he decides I’m first priority. I feel my cheeks burn, and for the millionth time, am thankful I have dark skin which disables any colour showing on my cheeks. I shiver, but not because of the cold – actually, it’s almost summer. But River is helping me… “Why are you helping me?” I ask the million dollar question, my voice soft but demanding for an answer. “Wouldn’t you rather do something else?” “Yeah, I would. But I don’t want you spoiling the whole play for me.” For a second, all respect which I earned for him had disappeared. A scowl made itself onto my face, my smile vanishing completely. But he winked at me. The minute he did that, I knew he was joking and couldn’t help a smile crossing my face. Though River had a sense of humour, he knew the different between being plain mean and funny. “Go up there.” There was a girl, about thirteen years old, singing an old-fashioned song. Her voice was beautiful, as a boy in the background was busily strumming at his yellow-and-blue guitar to pay any attention to the audience. I stared at them in awe. How could they possibly have the nerve to do something which, if not performed well, would make millions of people loathe them for eternity? Of course, the audience would never say it to their face. Instead, they would just think it. All inside their head. “I’m not going on there,” I say, feeling my knees melt to jelly. “It’s too terrifying.” “I’ll come with you?” His eyes dart pointedly at the keyboard already placed on the stage. “I can play the song you’re singing in the play.” “You mean ‘Sleepless Beauty’? Who taught you?” “Sebastian was learning the song on his guitar, and at the same time, it also had the notes for the piano. Because I have no life, I decided to learn it as well.” He elbows me in the ribs, a boyish smile playing on his lips. “Go up there. I dare you.” “Well, since you dared…” Within seconds, I’m up on stage. I can’t remember the time between where I signed up and to where I am right now, my stomach weakening. I feel as if my whole head is filled with miniature, man-eating butterflies which are ready to attack in all ways possible. My hand is clasped tightly around the microphone, a strong sense of nausea hitting me like a wave.
I never realised there was this many people. Many elderly people are looking at me, their smiles soft and welcoming. A lot of teenagers are just talking amongst themselves in an annoying way; possibly people who come from a nearby town, because I don’t know any of them. Yet, with River sitting on the keyboard behind me, I know it’s all going to be okay. Like a breeze. The soft, melodic beginning relaxes a little bit of tension. River plays it, and I can’t help wondering how easy it must’ve been for him to learn that song. He is, after all, a genius. If I may say so myself. “The whole world spins around…” I sing, watching the audience hush and listen to me and my horrible voice. But instead, I see them smiling. Grinning like an idiot? What are they possibly…? I turn around, only to see River smile and cock his head to the direction of a CD player. The one which I’m sure has the “real” voice people are hearing. Feeling somewhat relieved, I keep singing. But another part of me is disappointed it’s not me they’re hearing. “Ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh. But you just, cannot sleep. Ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.” Taking a deep breath, I prepare myself for the chorus. “Reluctant to sleep… You’re a sleepless beauty. Three cups of coffee… You’re a sleepless beauty. With your head held high… You’re a sleepless beauty. Wings like a butterfly… You’re a sleepless beauty.” It’s a short song –after all, we’re running a play, not a singing contest– but I manage to pull it off with ease. People actually believe it’s me who’s singing, as the entire shopping centre bursts out in a round of applause. Bowing, I steadily make my way off the stage as a boy wearing a wig steps on. All of a sudden, all the attention which I had received had vanished. This saddens me, as I let out a huge sigh. “What’s with the sigh?” a voice says from behind, startling me. “You did great.” “Thanks. You didn’t do that bad yourself.” “Quit stating the obvious, Jane. It’s annoying.” Resisting the urge to ask where he got his sudden cockiness from, I say, “Back to your house?” “Yeah. But make sure you don’t come with me. We’ll set up camp at the park thing, so you can stay overnight there.”
“I thought your parents wouldn’t mind me staying…” “Oh no. They wouldn’t mind at all.” His cheeks turn the slightest bit of red, as he shoves his hands into the pockets of his shorts. “They’ll just tease me endlessly to my doom. Things about growing up and being popular with girls–” “Camping it is.” Interrupting him was the best option I have on my hands. Despite himself, he grins at me with his perfect teeth. I somehow stop myself from losing my breath.
I’m sitting beside River in the tent, listening to the soft humming of the flashlight. Normally, torches don’t make any sound. But because this particular one has such low batteries, it’s the result received from it. Clasping my hands over my ears, I attempt to get rid of the sound. It’s so annoying! All of a sudden, I’m wondering if I maybe OCD to sounds hinting the object may be broken. Feeling somewhat self-conscious, the feeling grows as River sits up from his sleeping bag, head on his elbow, elbow on his knee and sitting cross-legged. But wait –there’s more. He’s smirking. “What?” “It’s not every day I see people obsessing over flashlights.” “Well. Guess it’s not every day, now is it?” All of a sudden, I’m aware of how close River’s face is to mine. If I move forward –even accidentally– the slightest, his lips would be on mine. This gives me the creeps, especially since he’s edging closer and closer, curiosity burning in his eyes. Feeling my cheeks heat up, I pretend my nails are much more interesting, just to ease the tension. He seems to take the hint and springs back like a repelling magnet. “Sorry…” “You didn’t do anything wrong.” I continue to pretend the world is more interesting than he’d ever be, when in fact, it’s the lie of the century. “No need to apologise.” He clears his throat, obviously more out of discomfort than to retrieve his voice. “Right.” There’s an awkward silence. We’re in River’s blue tent; the one which he conveniently had for summers when he’d set up camp. For his family. Although, I can’t imagine why people would need it for… Camping is something people do –in my case– to get away from people. Why camp when everything is perfectly alright? After all, the house rent still has to be paid no matter where one sleeps.
To break the sudden pause, I say, “So where did you used to live? When you used to live here, of course.” I pause. “Not that you still don’t, but–” “I used to live about three blocks away.” That’s one of River’s admirable qualities. He always saves people from being fully humiliated; like actually trying to decode my stutters and convert them into understandable sentences. Oh no. I'm talking about him in a positive way again. I really should get some sort of alarm to prevent me from uttering any embarrassing compliments.
But they're all true. That's what really annoys me. I can't really "deny" any of the compliments I feed to River in the safety of my mind.
“Right. So, why did you move?” I didn’t mean to offend him, but for some reason, he just turns away. As if repulsed by the question. Frantically, I race through my mind to find out what I can do. “I’m sorry! It’s really none of my business.” “I needed mental help.” When he turns to face me, his eyes are standing out of everything on his face. This lures me to his next words, causing a chill to run down my back. “Too many suicidal attempts.” At first, I thought he was joking. But even if he was, I still wouldn’t have found it funny. This was a sick joke to crack, especially since he might be serious. “You’re not joking, are you?” “Do you honestly think I’d joke about something like that?” His teeth are clenched as he snaps the words as me, a sudden light flashing through his eyes. And within seconds, his jaw loosens as he staggers backwards, bowing down his head. Right now, it seems as if his hands are the only thing keeping him in sitting position. “My turn to be sorry. It’s a touchy subject.” Could this be what everybody was keeping away from me? But it isn’t something completely out of the ordinary. It’s completely natural for teenagers to moan about one bad day and thinking ending their lives would be the solution. Very few actually take the effects, and River just happens to be one of them. Is it really that bad? Then again, if he truly thought it was shameful, wouldn’t he keep it a complete secret? What’s the point of telling me right now?
“Don’t worry.” Picking up the pizza boxes, I stuff another slice into my mouth. Trying to appear cheerful, I chew with my mouth open. River places a hand on his forehead, as if shamed by this scene, but I can see the smile creeping on his face from behind his hand. “Mm. This is good.” I pretty much throw the box at him. “Try it!” Unfortunately, something I have yet to learn with River is how awful he is at catching things. One minute he’s panicking, the next he’s trying to catch the giant box of cheesy goodness, the next it’s tumbling towards the floor. Of course, until I finally grasp if with both my hands. I shoot River a dirty look. If there’s one thing in life to be serious about, it was pizza. I can’t believe he, out of all people, didn’t realise what this world would be without this beautiful food. And to think I thought he was smart. “Nice catch, Jane.” Slow as a turtle with a one-hundred-kilogram of weight excess, I hand the box over to him, my eyes shining. If he dares drop this box, I’m going to– “Do you ever get tired of maintaining that stupid mask?” The words strike me as a bombshell, but somehow, I have enough self-control over myself to prevent dropping the box. Hesitantly, I stare up at a knowing River, which frustrates me dearly. I have no clue what’s going through his mind. Whatever I had once presumed about him being completely predictable, and how I claimed to know his every move was a complete lie. Fib of the century. I don’t even know what he had for dinner tonight, and that’s referencing to the past! Trying to change the subject, diverting the attention away from me, I say, “What excuse do you have for staying out so late? I mean, wouldn’t your parents–” “Don’t try to change the subject.” He pauses. “I just told them I’m sleeping over at Seb’s. They have no idea about you, and they probably wouldn’t care anyway. But that’s beside the point.” As if staring into my eyes would do all the difference in the world, it’s exactly what he does. “Answer my question honestly.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “Then, cry.”
Not hearing him quite clearly, I furrow my eyebrows. “What did you just say?” “Cry.” His face becomes a little softer. “It’s for the play. Apparently, Audia has to cry. So, you might as well practice now.” “Really? Which scene?” “The one where all of Audia’s kingdom is turned into cheese, and she must reunite with a handsome–” He runs his hands through his hair. “–and completely dashing prince.” Rolling my eyes skyward at this ridiculous statement, I realise I may have to do it. After all, it’s exactly what Audia would feel like when her whole kingdom has turned into… cheese. I have a hard time not bursting out laughing at Michael’s creativity skills. Of course he’d choose something completely silly to amuse the audience, seeing as he helped Avril with some of the scenes and quirks. And the weird thing is, he never fails. But if Jane Everett, the girl who never cries, has to weep in front of so many people… what difference would it do if I achieve this right in front of River? After all, I’m familiar with him, even if I’ve barely known him for long. And, dare I say it; he’s one of my closest friends. Somebody who I can always count on. From helping me out with my singing, making sure he doesn’t quit the play, bothering to check up on me after the news about my father has been brought to my ears… that guy is a miracle. And I’m lucky to have him in my life. So I must do this, even if it’s completely humiliating. Because if I can’t do it in front of River, who can I do it in front of? There’s nobody left. Even my closest friends, Sebastian and Avril, hate each other right now. This means they’ll be only using me to get revenge on the other if I dare approach them. So now, I look up at River’s black waves and realise it for the first time. He truly is the only one out there looking out for me. Everybody’s so absorbed in talking to me, they race out before I tell them their problems. It’s not fair. But with him, it’s different. He knows more about me than I do about him. Within seconds, tears flow out of my eyes. In Audia’s position, she would care about her kingdom. How she had been conned by the wicked witch. How she must kiss a truly revolting prince in order to save her kingdom. All of a sudden, I’m not crying for Audia anymore. Her kingdom means nothing to me, and if she doesn’t accept the prince, it’s all her stupid fault if the world comes to an end. Slowly, the world becomes dizzier and spinning around in spirals. I’m not crying for her anymore. The only person I’m crying for right now is myself.
And I can’t stop. As if by instinct, I feel River’s arms around me all of a sudden. But I make no effort to push away something which I like. I’ve been doing that too much –pulling myself back from things. It’s time I faced the real world, with real people. Take risks. And the first one is to let a boy, who I’ve barely known, put his arm around me like we’ve known each other for years. Centuries, perhaps. “By the way,” he whispers into my ear, and I feel a shiver running down my spine in reaction to his warm breath. “Crying isn’t in the script at all. But I just thought you might, you know, get tired of living a lie. You're not perfect, Jane. Nobody expects you to be.” Of course. Pulling away, I glance up at this boy with wonder mixed with hatred in my eyes. How had he known me so well when even I couldn’t identify my own feelings? From the very start he had predicted my every move; known me enough to realise I needed to cry. More than anything in the world, a requirement for showing my emotions to the world. Because, after all, I’m just one average girl. A messed-up, perfectionist, selfish and fake girl. Wiping away the transparent liquid which was literally pouring out of my eyes, I give him a watery smile. “Thank you. I needed that. But that’s probably the one of the last times I’m ever doing it.” He looks shocked. “But didn’t it feel good to get everything off your back? The heavy weights?” “Yeah,” I admit. “However, it was a promise I made to myself.” Without him even asking for further details, I tell him anyway. There’s somebody in the world who would listen to me. All I ever want is for him to be there, show up at the right time and erase all the pain. “When I was in third grade, I used to cry all the time. That was quite pathetic, considering my father had left me years before.” “Crying’s never pathetic.” Hesitantly, he places a hand on my shoulder. When he sees me not trying to chop his arm off his body, it relaxes there. How confident he sounded when he said that… “Everybody cries sometimes.” He laughs. “Even I do, sometimes. Over silly stuff.” “Like?” Even though there was somebody out there who listened to me, didn’t mean I was going to be selfish as all the people who shared their problems. River deserves every right to tell me about his life, and things which I don’t need to know about. But it’s all good, because he’s somebody I’d like to know. Figure out completely.
“Well, there was this one time…” Even with merely the dim torch lighting up the tent, I see his cheeks go red. “I was seven years old at that time. My parents had three tickets to some show, so they took themselves and…” He stops, his eyes flashing as if he’s made some mistake. “…And?” “Two tickets,” he blurts out. “I meant to say two.” Sure, I think to myself. Two tickets. Just a slip of tongue saying three. It’s nothing major, right? But even with the internal thoughts, I knew there was something strange about River. There’s an aspect of him which I can’t figure out, no matter how much I try. Something made him cover up the “three” tickets with “two” so ferociously, and I believe the truth slipped out of his mouth. He’s covering everything with his lies, but I’m not going to fall for it. Everybody else knows something which I don’t, and I’m going to figure it out, piece by piece. Who is River Mullaney? I don't know. Not now, anyway. But I promise that, by the end of this summer, I'll be the one who sees through him -not vice versa. I want to be the one he turns to. Nothing can stop me.
There is a book placed on my dresser. Yawning and rising out of bed, I approach it with caution. I feel as if my clothes aren’t appropriate, but I don’t care. Right now, all I want to do is get rid of the curious feeling biting away at my skull. As I approach the dresser, I inspect myself in the mirror. There is white stuff all over my face, and even though Mum never saw me yesterday, she didn’t care at all. Because I’m worthless. That’s why I said thank you to River, only to return back home. Perhaps my mother will never see past my “I’m happy” façade like this boy can. Neither will Avril nor Sebastian, and definitely not anybody else. Attached to the book is a note from Mum. Jane, Just a pre-warning that Tia’s coming over a couple days from now. This is the new book, I’ve published. I hope you like it. Diane Of course, she never signs off with “Mum.” She refuses to bring me any kind of claim to her, because after all, I’m just another girl who’s not worthy of anything. Not only don’t I have a father, my mother is so distant, it’s like I don’t have one at all. In fact, sometimes I refuse to believe she’s the woman who gave me birth. Instead, I simply do everything in my power to avoid her completely. She’s not my mother; why does she act like she doesn’t know me? Am I that worthless? All of a sudden, thinking of last night makes a blush creep up my face. How embarrassing! Imagine crying like a complete lunatic in front of River, who simply held me. Now that I’m more awake –not that insomniacs have much sleep in first place– I realized how much I loved having his arms around me. Warm, comforting. Everything was just… perfect. Shaking the ridiculous thoughts out of my head, I scan through the contents of the book. As I look on the dedication, I don’t see my name. Or anybody’s, as a matter of fact. It’s just a dedication to her readers in general. No personality twisted with her words. As I read through, I notice my name in the book. For a second, I try to grasp the concept, feeling so nervous I’m certain I’m going to drop the book. Somehow, I manage to have a tight grip on the block of paper. When I read the
entire book, several hours later, my whole life feels as if it has been turned upside down, crashing like a chandelier in a dramatic movie. The whole book is based on my life. Things I would never reveal to anybody, and somehow, my mother knows everything. From how I’ve lied to Lulu several times about not having gum left, to the fatal mistake of lip-syncing. She must’ve looked through my email accounts and chat messages, especially since she’s the best hacker known to human kind. The messages I’ve sent to William. She has full access to them, knowing every little thing I’ve ever said to him. Somehow, I don’t feel exposed or upset. I’m angry. Deathly outrageous. So she doesn’t want a daughter like me? Is that why she thinks telling me secrets to the whole world will solve everything? Well, I’m a mistake after all, aren’t I? For some reason, that thought sends a different type of spark rushing through my cranium as I begin to laugh. Hysterically and feeling like the whole world is crashing down. And nobody’s there to catch me when I fall. I remember thinking, once upon a time, I'll support my mother. One day, she'll write something which will sell all over the world. Never did I realise I'll be so shocked, stunned by this. How much I long to get every copy of this published book and rip it into shreds. Something like this is priceless. Although bound not to be an international success, it's bound to be popular in a remote town like this one. People will read the book and think they know everything about me. But they'll never know. It's just like River said, they don't know my life. They only know my name. I'm still laughing hysterically, unable to stop. When I finally stop laughing, I’m aware of tears streaming out of my eyes. Don’t be such a cry baby, Jane, I scold myself. Breathe, Jane, breathe. Remember how you would cry your lungs out when your father left? My hands clench into fists. It wasn’t his fault. Blinking away the tears, for some reason, I manage to stand up and look through the window. Through my tears, and somehow, everything makes sense. If my father hadn’t left me, my life truly would be perfect. My mother would have somebody to love for eternity and I would have somebody to call “Dad.”
Just like I once had. But now, it seems I’m not good enough to belong anywhere. I don’t belong here. So where do I belong? Somewhere… anywhere but here. And that’s when I make the decision, in a split second; I’m going to live with River. I don’t care what he thinks or if he doesn’t approve. Avril and Sebastian are great friends when I want to mess around with somebody, but hopeless otherwise. They’re not serious enough. They don’t know what I have to face. And now, thanks to this book, maybe they’ll get a clue of what I have to go through every day. Having a mother who’s strong enough to retrieve a driving license but never using it for my sake. When I hear the door open, it feels like my whole mind shakes. Peeking through the door to make sure it’s safe to exit, I’m aware of standing in front of my mother. Leaning against the door, because I don’t have the energy to stand up properly. My knees are aching, but somehow, I manage to stand with the help of support from the door. Mum enters the house, her eyes in narrow slits as she picks her glasses from the table. “I forgot this,” she says simply, even though she doesn’t have to explain anything to me. Nothing needs to be explained to a mistake. Just one step away from exiting the building completely, she turns her head the slightest. I can’t see her whole face, but the sides of her eyes are visible. And gleaming. “Did you like that book, Jane?” “Why do you hate me so much?” “Because you’re the reason he left.” She turns her head so she’s fully staring ahead at the door. “I never realized it until now. But even though I kicked him out, if you weren’t born, he would’ve never left.” The cruelness of her words are effective. However, it’s not the thing bothering me. She’s right. There isn’t a man out there who can provide a child like me rights, especially since he had such a poor education. Sixteen years. That’s when they made the careless mistake. In other words, my mother was my age, if not several months younger, when a baby girl was born in her arms. Isn’t it her fault for being so careless? The boy next door? Is that the best she could do? “You understand, right, Jane?” She stares at me. “You’re irritating. You’re good at everything. You don’t make any mistakes. But this book just shows us just how wonderful you truly think you are.”
She’s acting childish and spoilt. But it doesn’t end there. I refuse for her to have the satisfaction of seeing pain in my eyes. “Just sleep with the boy next door, why don’t you?” I whisper in a hauntingly calm tone. “Then claim me as the mistake. Guess what? We all make mistakes. It’s up to you to reverse them.” My eyes shine. Even if I can’t see it, I know they are. Acting skills are finally paying off, because I’m able to show her my emotions without one word of dialogue. For the slightest second she looks taken aback, but her spoilt nature returns as she opens the door, puts her sunglasses and steps outside. “I’ve got to get to work. You’re useless.” “Why don’t I make the same mistake as you?” The looks she gives me is enough for the devil to turn away in terror. “Because you won’t,” she says in a sickly sweet tone. “You truly are perfect, aren’t you? Just like him. He never had faults, your father. And if he did, nobody exposed them. There weren’t any bad words about him.” She shakes her head. “But leaving me? Is that a sign of perfection?” Feeling myself shake, I’m about to return her comment with something more haunting. Horrifying. But she’s already out the door. * River blinks for the fifth time in a row; on purpose. As if he’s trying to grasp the perfectly simple thing I’m explaining to him, he holds up his hands. “What is it this time?” I say, annoyed. “So you want me to show her something which is the same mistake as she made?” His face turns red, but somehow he manages to maintain it to the spot his normal skin color is back. He is, after all, an actor. “Getting pregnant? Are you seriously going to do that?” “How dumb do you think I am, River?” “Very.” I elbow him in the ribs, causing one of his famous crooked grins to appear. For a second I’m startled, because it’s so unexpected of him to smile at something completely ridiculous. Actually, for him it’s perfectly alright. For
normal people it’s not. Feeling rather annoyed at how I’m admiring him, even unconsciously, I continue to explain my perfect scheme. “All I need is a fake picture which shows somebody being pregnant.” “Uh-huh. And where do I come in?” “You said you had tried to kill yourself several times, haven’t you?” Even without looking at him, I can feel the tense aura spread through the air. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the wisest way to talk to him. But it definitely got his attention. “You must have some kind of doctor. In that case, would you ask that doctor for one of the pictures?” “Sorry.” He pretends to wipe imaginary dust from his jeans. “No can do.” “But…” “Why do you need my help? Can’t you just do to the hospital and get a make-believe picture yourself?” “No,” I say, feeling rather defensive. “Mum is somebody who everybody knows.” A bitter laugh escapes my throat before I can stop it. “Or should I say, Diane. If somebody saw me in the hospital, the news would spread quickly.” I pause. “You know how nosy this town is, right? The only thing people can do is gossip.” This boy irritates me. It seems as he’s doing everything in his power to avoid helping me. That’s so like River, I think, and can’t help a smile. He’s somebody who can’t do things for the sake of helping somebody. There always has to be something in it for him. And the statement is not false at all. Even the performance which is said to “enchant my singing” was so he doesn’t look like a complete idiot. All of a sudden, I’m awaited by another solution. What if he only pretends he doesn’t help anybody? Maybe he doesn’t want people to think he’s soft. After all, most boys are like that. At least, Sebastian’s like this anyway. “Fine.” He shrugs. Letting go of my breath, I’m aware of how relieved I feel right now. Then he says words which make me weary all over again. “What’s in it for me?” “What do you want?” He bites his lip. “A date with Avril.”
I have no idea why, but my heart feels empty the minute the four words exit his mouth. Feeling a heavy atmosphere build up, I can’t help wondering how much he likes her. After all, River’s not the type of boy to ask people favours. He must really be desperate. But what about Sebastian? Isn’t he Avril’s one and only love? “Um, sure.” I shrug, trying to act indifferent. “Whatever.” “You’re jealous.” For the first time, he’s staring me down with his eyes. “You may fool the entire town, but you can’t fool me, Jane. I can see through your mask.” How long have I waited for somebody to say those words to me? I wanted to be acknowledged, to be shown I'm still there. But now the words have been said to me, I never realised how haunting they are. I'm suddenly longing for my own private world again -I don't want a listener anymore. I just want to be alone in my own world. Maybe it's best nobody understands me. That way, I can pull away in my own little world and not cause predictions from other people interfere with my life. Maybe it’s psychological, but I feel like my face just fell off. A layer which has been hiding what I really am. But who wants to be with the real Jane? The mask is a much better version of what I can never be realistically. The mask is perfect, happy and has no flaws. The real Jane? Heartbroken, torn-down, queen of vanity, deceiving, selfish… And jealous. For the first time, I’m able to look in his eyes. But not giving him any satisfaction of what I say, “You’re not that unpredictable either, Mr. Mullaney.” When he appears a little startled, I know I’m winning this imaginary war. “You have mental problems. You used to live here before moving to the big city for your therapy. When you had a slip of tongue the other day, it seemed as if you had another family member, who’s obviously older than you. Somebody who’s not with us right now.” His eyes flash and from what I can see, he’s trying to show indifference. A single chuckle escapes my throat, but it’s cold and unwelcoming. “Am I right, Mr. Mullaney?”
Avril walks around the room, handing each student a piece of paper. Thankfully, after bribing her with a lifetime of homemade cookies, she has spared me. Now, Audia doesn’t sing in the production at all. She just smiles and waves while Hazel and her amazing voice are on the vocals. All that pressure at the mall for nothing. But I have to admit, it was the experience of a lifetime. Standing beside River and singing my lungs -well, somebody else's lungs- out. It's something I'll never forget. And even though it all ended up being for nothing, he still stood beside me. He didn't leave me singing endlessly on stage -he did everything possible to make sure I don't mess up my own part. I should be forever grateful to him for that reason alone. Feeling somewhat curious, I take a quick glance through the sheet. What is this for? She hands identical pieces of paper to all the play members –River, who plays the prince; Lulu who plays the mother; Michael who plays all minor male characters and the king; and last but not least, me, who plays the main character. There aren’t many people acting at all in this drama club, instead, most of the girls and boys are singing or dancing of some sort, Sebastian included. I can’t help River’s confession about Avril spring into mind, but I need to show my mother that fake photograph. Even if it means feeling jealous of my best friend who has the attention of the only boy who understands me. In fact, he’s the lone boy I would ever break my “no kisses” rule for. Doesn’t that sound troubling? I laugh at this. Yes, it does. Maybe it’s a little weird that I truly am falling for “the prince,” but in honesty, I don’t care. For the first time, I pick up the pencils which Sebastian is passing around and begin using it. You have to make sure you’re in your character’s shoes and answer these questions as if you know her, even if it’s not in the original script. Name: Audia Knightly Age: Seventeen
Height: 173 cm All of a sudden, I feel the urge to look up from my page, even though I haven’t completed the form. Neither of my two best friends glance at each other the slightest. I feel the tension of the air overflow through my veins and am ready to back away from this hallway. Possibly escape somewhere else. Avril and Sebastian truly hate each other at this point of time, but then again, they’re destined for each other. “You know what, let’s start.” “Shouldn’t we have some sort of director?” River suddenly speaks up. Everybody looks at him like he’s insane. “I know this is at the last minute, but we really need one. We’ve had ‘people in charge’ but it’s not permanent enough.” “I’ll do it!” Avril shouts. At the same time, Sebastian yells, “I can do it.” Realizing they’ve spoken at the same time, they turn to glare at each other with their eyes in narrowed slits. Avril folds her arm and Sebastian mimics her. Both of them keep their lips pressed, as if opening them would release a lifetime of badmouthing for the other. It feels as if the whole air has consisted of some poisonous gas; one which is turning everybody into an awkward position. River bites his lips, obviously not figuring out how he’ll separate the two in this situation. “Cool it, you two.” Lulu gives both of a glare and I have the amusement of watching them flinch. “If you don’t, I’m going to make sure neither of you see sunlight.” She turns to her boyfriend. “In your case, I’m dumping you. Do what I say.” “I don’t have to. You can’t blackmail me, Lulu.” Sebastian’s sudden rebellious attitude surprises everybody. All except Avril, who simply smiles and looks ready to break into a round of applause. Somehow, that girl understands so many parts to Sebastian. No wonder she likes him so much; when one comprehends the movements and thinking of another, it’s impossible not to fall into a deep liking.
“Well. In this case, I’m the director.” River looks pleased with himself as he picks up a megaphone which he conveniently carried all the way to school. “You planned this whole thing, didn’t you?” I say, cocking my head to the side and suppressing a grin. “Is it that obvious?” He puts his mouth to the megaphone, making his next words sound louder than ever before. “I mean, don’t normal people carry megaphones everywhere?” I can’t help myself; I literally start bursting out in laughter. River seems to be in a giggle fit of his own, and when I’m about to question, he simply mouths something to do with my laugh being the weirdest he’s ever heard. I’m about to poke my tongue out when I’m aware of everybody just staring at me, like I’m some sort of lunatic. “Those two idiots are perfect for each other,” mutters Lulu. I have no idea what’s gotten into her, but her mean side seems to be showing a lot today. Just then, a teacher walks into the room. It’s weird, because I’m not used to seeing teachers during drama rehearsals. Not since Avril successfully convinced them that practicing in front of adults with beady-eyes and lunatic smiles are quite uncomfortable. So perhaps she didn’t use these exact words but she was definitely thinking them. “How are you all going?” “Good, Mrs. Freya,” we reply in a chant. Quickly, I turn back to the form I have to fill out right now. What is your favorite color? An aqua blue, because that’s the color of my very first blanket. What words would others use to describe you? Very energetic, especially during the nights. A complete sleepyhead in the mornings. Sarcastic and backstabbing. What would you describe yourself as? A very loving and emotional person who cares for everybody but the prince. Next I’m aware, Jasmine stands up and hands all of us –the acting crew– a doll. For a second, I’m amazed at how boldly she’s giving all the figures out. She’s the teacher’s daughter and also a seventh grader. Mrs. Freya just happens to be my science teacher, and never fails to tell us about her proud creation; her daughter, Jasmine Freya.
There are stories of how frail and shy she is, but seeing her boldly walking around, I’m not sure I believe the tales anymore. Mrs. Freya might just be making those stories up, because Jasmine is her whole life. Of course, unlike my mother, she takes claim and responsibility for her own daughter. My mother and I are just two strangers living in the same house, who don’t bother compromising or trying to keep in harmony with the world. To be quite frank, I don’t care at all. Let my mother be. “Did you make them?” Sebastian says with obvious admiration. “They’re amazing, Jasmine.” I watch a smile grow on the seventh grader’s face, as her face turns a light shade of pink. “Thank you.” As I look down at the doll, I find that I have one of River. The details are perfect, from his sharp cheekbones, straight nose and blue eyes. His dark hair is wavy the way he always has it. Jasmine notices she has given the wrong doll to different people, and covers her mouth to avoid her giggles. She’s about to take the doll River has of me away, but he just clings on it. “I’d rather keep this one,” he says. “Same here,” I call to Jasmine. Our eyes lock for the slightest moment, as we shout in unison, “Voodoo dolls!” Avril takes Sebastian’s doll without his approval and takes her hairclip out of her hair. “Great idea, guys,” she says, poking Sebastian-Junior in the nose. “Huh! Let’s see what happens to your perfect nose now.” Sebastian is about to say something, but there's confusion marked on his face. Because for once, my smartmouthed best friend complimented him. Avril doesn't compliment people unless there's a reason for it, or if she's madly in love with them. All of a sudden, the tense atmosphere vanishes. Nobody’s really in hysterics, but for the first time, we’re having fun. Who knew a couple of realistic dolls could do the trick? *
“Why aren’t you looking at me strangely?” River inquires, stirring his coffee. His third glass, in fact. “I thought you would.” “How come?” It’s past two o’clock and we’re both at the café, sitting opposite of each other. I’m about to start the daily crossword and I’m about pick up my pen, but instead, I hesitate. My pencil case is just in front of me, sitting there. I do the most heroic thing possible and put it back, wrapping my fingers around a pencil instead. River smiles at this. Not one of his mocking or sarcastic smiles, but a true, genuine one. “You’ve changed a lot, haven’t you?” he says. “At the beginning, I thought you were some spoilt, rotten, horrible, thinking-she’s-perfect, annoying, awfully-perking, insomnia-faking, dramatic–” “Is there a positive in this sentence?” “Hold on. I’m getting there.” He clears his throat. “Where was I? Oh, yes. Good-for-nothing, dumb, snobby, mean and nosey girl. But now…” He cocks his head to the side. “You’re not that bad.” “Gee, thanks. You made my day, my year.” I stand up on the chair, putting a hand over my heart. “My whole life.” “You’re still dramatic,” he mutters. “Shouldn’t have put that in the list of things you aren’t. But back to the original topic. I thought you’d be a little more concerned and pitiful.” I shrug. “Your grandfather died. What can you possibly do about it?” He cuts me short. “Grandfather? Where did you get…” He pauses, a smile creeping through his face. “Oh, good. Nobody told you.” “No…” I’m suddenly confused. “I used my own brains.” “That’s what I was afraid of. But Jane, I'm not telling you for a reason. Not to leave you out or anything. I just don't think you'd look at me the same.” Feeling annoyed at him, I can’t help wondering what it is. But I can’t bluntly ask him, because he’ll refuse. He’ll some around someday, and even if it’s ten years from now, I’ll be waiting. Patiently. But to let him taste his own
medicine, I ask him a question I saved on special occasions. “Did your ‘potion’ work, or are your parents still on each other’s backs?” “Of course,” he lies. It amazes me how, even though I know it’s a lie, he manages to look me straight in the eyes. This fact makes shivers run down my back. I f I truly didn’t know the answer to this question, I would’ve believed whatever response he came up with. Needless to say, River truly is a great actor. Oh no. I'm complimenting him again. Again, I feel relieved nobody can read my mind. If so, my mother would've kicked me out of the house and River would be growing a big head -bigger than the one he already has. Haven't I already admitted to having an attraction for this boy, but not being able to put a finger on it? No. I did no such thing -I'll just deny it. Even if it's only in my mind. "Really?" “I mean, they’re getting along so much better.” His eyes light up. “Oh! Speaking of my parents, they invited you to our house tomorrow.” He shrugs. “But since you’re staying with me for the night, it won’t matter, right?” “Yes.” I pause. “Can I ask you a question?” “Haven’t you just?” “You know how you and Avril are dating…?” “Yes….” It’s true, even though it hurts just to say it. After rehearsals, he just marched up to her and asked if she’d be kind enough to show interest in him. To be honest, I’d never be able to do something like that without humiliating myself for eternity. But it doesn’t matter. He said it in front of so many people, it’s actually a wonder how Avril managed to agree. Even Sebastian was standing next to her when River declared it to her, and the look of shock was visible on everybody’s face. Yet, River didn’t back away. He didn’t flush and pretend it was a joke. Avril agreed as soon as she understood what he was asking.
“I saw her and Sebastian holding hands afterwards,” I say quietly. I brace myself for him to stand up, throwing all the chairs around. He liked her so much; after all, he’s willing to sacrifice my whole view on him by asking me to get them together. Instead, I’m shocked to see him chuckle. “You’re not mad?” How is he not mad? And then the conclusion hits me like a lightning. Of course. He’s not human. Some evil sort of creature has possessed him in the body he currently has, feasting on all his guts and organs. He– “Nope. The reason I wanted to date her in first place was to show Sebastian what he was missing out on.” “I’m not sure I follow…” “You see, boys are weird like that. We never show interest for somebody until they’re not available anymore. Avril was not in-demand or anything, so I made her one.” He shrugs. “It kind of makes us think about what the other guy sees in that girl, and it turns out well.” Scoffing down a piece of chocolate cake, I’m surprised he’s not choking. “I’m still going to get you that picture, so don’t worry.” For a couple of minutes, I simply blink. Trying to digest all he has just said. The kindness behind his voice, the growing comfort in his voice. I think it’s fair to assume he’s getting more comfortable with me around than at the beginning, where he wasn’t afraid to bite me for the sake of a book. And slowly, a grin spreads through my face and doesn’t leave my face. Even though he’s talking on and on about things that aren’t funny, I still have that stupid smile pasted on my face. Like a girl with a bit of a crush.
Avril looks absolutely sparked up the next day, when I’m meeting her to shop. But regardless of how much I hate interfering about other love-lives, I ask for every detail which went on with her and Sebastian. For the first time, I feel the greatest amount of respect than anybody else in the world. For River. Every other influence in my life always turned their backs at the last moment. William, who was supposed to listen to everything I had to say, had left me feeling more isolated than I realized. My father, who made sure I was the center of attention with his kind gestures and love, had ran away from my mother. Why wouldn’t he? A bitter voice in my head, one which had been pushed back as far as possible, spoke up. After all, isn’t it what you’re trying to do? Run away from her. Make sure she never forgets she holds all responsibility over you. All of a sudden, I feel as if somebody took a giant chunk of my heart and is smashing it into smaller pieces. “Well, it started out with River asking me out. And then Sebastian realized I wasn’t completely useless, and he was talking to me on purpose today.” She shrugs before grinning at me. “We’re not dating yet, but he held my hand for some reason. I didn’t protest, but I’m not letting him have me so easily.” Her eyes dart around the shopping center, as if she’s looking for somebody. “I owe this to River. He’s...” “…Amazing, right?” She seems stunned at my completion of her sentence. “I was going to say ‘helpful.’ But you know.” She looks at me slyly. “For you, that’s the best word to describe him.” She pokes me in the ribs and I have trouble not showing some defensive gesture, which would make her tease me even further. “Oh, look! It’s River!” My head snaps up to look at the direction she points to, only to realize nobody is there. Avril throws back her head and begins laughing, her golden curls wavering as she does so. Folding my arms over my chest, I have a difficult time not giving her a death glare. “Ha-ha. You’re hilarious.” “I’m sorry!” She stops laughing, and her smile begins to falter. “You really do like him, don’t you?” What good would it do to deny it? “Just a tad.” I hold my index finger and thumb about two centimeters apart. “But don’t tell anybody, okay?” All of a sudden, my attention is diverted to a boy with wavy black hair, which has icecream covered all over. “Hey, isn’t that him?”
Looking at where my eyes are pointing, she appears taken aback. “Yeah. That’s him. Go ahead, talk to him.” She pauses, her expression thoughtful. “Why does he have ice-cream in his hair?” “Some guys never change,” I reply, not answering her question. As I stand up and stride towards him, I feel a deep sense of nausea spread over me. I’m talking to him, even though I like him more than a friend. Maybe it’s not my first time liking a boy, but definitely the only time they ever acknowledge my existence. This makes my heart pound. Maybe he’ll feel something for me as well. When I step up to him, he merely waves, one of his boyish smiles on his face. He points to his hair, covered in caramel ice-cream and gives me a pleasedon’t-ask expression. “What brings you here?” he asks, picking out an enormous lollypop and licking it. The entire object is rainbow and colourful, making me laugh until my sides hurt. River acts so immature, it’s hard to believe he even considered giving up his life. All of a sudden, I notice something around his neck. He batters his eyelashes before flinching back, as if trying to work out why I’m staring at him so intensely. “You ‘kay?” “You’re Christian?” Sure enough, around his neck and hidden slightly beneath his navy t-shirt is the Christian symbol –a cross. He simply smiles and holds it out for me to look at, and I can feel myself get lighter. My head feels as if I’m going to faint. Holding the pendant and making sure to keep out of embarrassing-myself distance, I stare at all the detail and time it must’ve taken the maker to use. Everything seems perfect on the symbol. “I didn’t know that…” I say dumbly, still having the pendant in my hands. He makes no effort to take it away from me, which I’m glad. Because if he takes it back, then I’ll have to look up at him. Considering how close I have to be to inspect something around his neck, I’m confirmed I will do something which would embarrass the living daylights out of me. “Did you buy it?” “No.” He puts his hands in his pockets. “A family member gave it to me.” “You have a–” My heart pangs against my chest. Something about those words make sense. “He –or she– died, didn’t they?” A bitter smile makes itself on his face. “Yeah.”
My eyes flicker open so rapidly, I can feel my heart beat increasing. I’m about to question further, but am unable to. Sure enough, Lulu appears out of nowhere and takes River with her, giving me a cheerful greeting before rushing off with him trailing behind her. As if his own personalized goodbye, he takes off his cap and puts it back on, but I’m too shaken up to be entertained or amused. “Avril.” I quicken my pace until I’m face-to-face with my best friend. She’s cocking her head to the side, picking out a pair of socks for the play. After all, that’s why we’re here in first place. The entire shopping center is crowded with people, as usual, and everything seems to be echoing in my delicate ears. “One of River’s family members died, did you know?” The pair of socks she finally picked out drops from her hands, but surprisingly enough, her facial expressions don’t change. “I know. But I can’t tell you anything else. It was a promise I made to River.” That’s when I lost it completely. The last screw in my brain which was holding me together had fallen out completely. ”Why is that horrible boy keeping me out of everything?” “Why don’t you ask him?” Avril doesn’t even bother to fake pity for me. She shakes her head slowly. “Trust me, Jane. His history’s not something he’s proud of. He’s not just excluding you; he’s not telling anybody who doesn’t need to know.” “How come you and Sebastian know, then?” “Because we were there when it happened. The entire class consists of people who’ve been here since the last time he lived in this town. They know everything as well.” She stops, as if trying to catch her breath. “You know how they give him weird looks? Now you know why.” He killed them. But that doesn’t make sense. What reason does he have to kill his own family member? Suddenly, I feel a whole combination of shivers run down my back like a herd of snakes. They must’ve done something, or irritated him to the extremes. Wouldn’t that mean I should be dead, or in another way of looking, maybe I’m next to be killed? The whole idea is so chilling, but by the way River looks at me, sometimes I feel as if I’m annoying the living daylights out of him. Everything is floating around my head, and all of a sudden, I realize what I need to do. A break is required. Everything –the play, my father dying, my mother not caring about me at all, me being “second-best” actor, River
hiding a secret, not being perfect– is too much for me to handle. Easily enough, since today’s Friday, there’s going to be a party at the local café. Maybe a few drinks will help me… What are you thinking, Jane? You’ve never drunk in your life! I don’t listen to the annoying mental voice; instead, I make up my mind. My daredevil best friend will come with me –I know she will. Whether she’ll join in the drinking or not, it’s completely up to her. But I need to lie back. After all, the minute alcohol rushes through my body, I’ll be able to tell everybody about my wonderful accomplishment. “Hey, Av, what do you think about hitting the café?” Her eyes grow wide. “But you hate parties… I’m in, of course. But what’s with this sudden change of mind?” “I still hate them. I just want to forget the world today. You know?” “Are you going to drink?” “Maybe just a little. Just enough to accomplish something in my life.” Avril shakes her head in disapproval. “Not something to be proud of. You know Diana in our production? The one playing one of the fairies? She’s addicted to alcohol; one drink might be all it takes, Jane.” “Habits don’t start that easily,” I point out. Of course, I’m the one who’d know this better than anybody else. Insomnia didn’t start with me staying up late for merely one night; those four weeks did the trick. It must be the same for all the addictions and bad habits out there. We’re standing in front of my house, since it’s only walking distance from the nearest shopping center. “Wait here, I’m going to get changed and–” My sentence is interrupted as I see something smashed up among the green, almost blinding, grass. “What is it?” Avril asks, peering closer with her brown eyes shining. She suddenly appears taken aback. “Hey, Jane, isn’t that the gnome your father bought?” Sure enough, that’s exactly what it is. Because my mother has been working late hours, there’s no way she’d have smashed up this sculpture during the night; she’d be too tired. It’s simple to assume that she’s in the house right now. Really stressed out because she ruined one of the only reminders of my father, but on the other hand, doesn’t she want to get rid of evidence he ever existed? For some reason, I feel like choking back tears even though I’m telling myself to be strong. Why is everything to go wrong? My future ambitions include leading a normal life.
Just once. I want everything to go my way. I wish for unforgivable, petty things -things such as River’s acting would be good, but not as good as mine. Sometimes, I wish his talent would randomly fade. Just so I'm in the centre of attention. Then there is my father, who died before I could tell him my last words. I would tell him I love him, even though he was kicked out all those years ago. He offered help to my mother for me growing up, but does it matter anymore? Of course it doesn’t. Because my mother won’t take back the fact he got her pregnant, when it’s equally her fault. As my fists clench up, I look at the asphalt directly below me which has cracks running through, just so Avril can’t see my face. Because whatever is on my face will mirror my internal thought. I need time to disguise my face as an actress. “Forget about changing clothes. It’s six o’clock already. Let’s just head to the party.” Before we head off, I can’t resist looking at the pieces once more. The pieces of the creepy gnome which always stared at me before my mother decided it was too much –that my father didn’t need to exist in neither the world nor our hearts. Because when she smashed it up, I imagined she didn’t think the gnome as what it is. But rather, my father. Irreparable pieces of his soul. * The giant glass sits in front of me, as I stare at it before gulping it down in one go. For once, the café is filled with people. I managed to convince somebody at the cash register thanks to my height and mature-looking face. These parties held at the café are always completely wild and nobody bothers to check any identification. The police force is very minor in this particular small town, and none of them are too active. It’s merely a profession which nobody takes a second glance at, especially since the police officers never pay attention to anything. The whole world seems the slightest bit blurry, but I don’t stop myself from trying to get from one side of the room to another. Everything seems so familiar and yet, distant at the same time. It worries me how my focus can’t be placed on something or somebody, but I feel this wild side approaching me. A side which finds pleasure in confusion and not knowing what I’m about to do next. I love the thought of not being able to predict what I, myself, will do next. Finally, my knees are so weak I can barely stand up. That’s when I collapse.
When my consciousness returns, I find my back on something soft but not too spongy. The possibility of such an object makes me wonder what it can be, but I don’t want to open my eyes yet. My ears aren’t working very well at all, but gradually start allowing noise to pass. Even then, every sound appears distant. It’s as if I’m being sucked out by a vacuum cleaner and I’m waiting for the world to respond to my actions with actions, but I’m already halfway through the tube. My head starts aching like somebody shot a bullet through it, an obvious reaction from alcohol. I’m never drinking again. Of course, despite all my confusion, I loved every minute of feeling my life turn around and blurry. When alcohol is consumed, I feel as if the whole world is not familiar at all. “I never expected her to drink,” says a voice with disgust. It takes me a while, but I recognise it as Lulu’s. “Yeah, I know. She’s like, the poster child for perfection.” This voice is obviously Sebastian’s. “She’s not perfect. I’m her best friend, you know?” says a defensive Avril. Sebastian, Avril and Lulu’s voice are coming opposite of me. Right now, I’m confirmed I’m sitting in one of those tables which have three seats on one side, three on the other and a marble table separating them. After all, this is where I spend all my time as a fellow insomniac. I’m ready to arise from my slumber, tell Lulu off for even thinking my life is perfect, but I freeze after hearing another voice. “She’s really unpredictable, isn’t she?” The boyish and yet not low voice is undoubtedly River’s. But there’s a slight problem; the sound is coming from above me. Like, directly above me. All of a sudden, everything makes sense as I feel hands run through my dark-brown hair. River’s hand, I realise, panic striking my heart. “She looks so peaceful when she sleeps.” I’m lying down on River’s lap, and if I stretch my legs out a little more, I will feel the wall because the entrances of these seats are at the other end. If there’s a more awkward position than I am right now, I’d be glad to be informed so I’m able to supress my humiliation. But somehow, I don’t’ feel like arising. “You would stare at her all day long. Shame on you. And to think you’re Christian…” Lulu retorts. The sound of her loudly slurping on her coffee makes me feel rather homely. In this case, my friends are the only family I’ve got. “I know!” It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to recognise the delight behind her voice. “I dare you kiss her.”
“Yeah!” Oh no. No, no. Avril, you’re supposed to be my best friend! But ignoring my mental thoughts –after all, she has no clue I’m cursing her inside my head– she continues with her daredevil personality showing. Of course she would be eager for him to do something reckless. “I’ll give you five dollars.” This is Lulu. “I’ll do your homework for you at the start of next year. For a whole week,” Sebastian chirps in, truly resembling a bird. Right now I’m imagining him with his glasses falling to his nose, but this time, he’s aware of my best friend’s feelings. “And Avril will give you her stamp collection.” “Hey!” There is a loud smack of a hand slapping somebody. “Who gave you permission to gamble my stuff?” “Don’t worry.” Sebastian sounds very confident. “He’s too chicken. He’ll never do it.” Darn right he’s not, I think hotly inside my head, digging my elbows down as hard as I can. That way, they’ll be digging into his knees. I slowly raise myself up and glare at my so-called friends before shifting over near the wall. In other words, avoiding River completely but I can still see his smirk from the corner of my eye. All three of my friends are busily eating whatever’s in front of them, not looking at me at all, this makes me feel frustrated and ready to hit something, but I don’t comment. “You guys are absolute jerks! What was the big idea with that dare?” My eyes shift over to Lulu. Right now, I can imagine my eyes being bloodshot. Desperately, I take my eyes off her and check through my pocket mirror. My face is perfectly fine, just like it would be after a shower. “How come my eyes aren’t bloodshot?” I exclaim aloud, still not taking my eyes off the mirror. “That’s ‘cause you were never drunk in first place,” Avril says with a laugh. “You can’t consume alcohol at all, can you? You just fell asleep somehow.” It suddenly hits me. Throughout my entire life, I've been looking for a cure for insomnia. Who would've known it was alcohol? For me only? Especially since I'm willing to bet there are people who'd prove this theory wrong. Alcohol was supposed to make me feel restless, not causing me to sleep like a baby. So I've finally found a cure -my cure. But the thing is, I don't want to keep drinking just to sleep. Now that I'm thinking about it, I'm happier with insomnia. Maybe it's something which won't ever leave me. It was meant for this to happen. Ever since I found out River's a Christian, I looked up the religion.
Most Christians believe everything happens for a reason. Jesus Christ dying to show us the lowness of humanity, coming back to life to show how love is powerless over hatred, and God loving us and forgiving us when we don't feel we deserve it. The religion is truly a stunning one, even though I'm not sure I'll ever join it. The idea of joining a specific religion overwhelms me. Just believing in God, in the love of humanity and fighting for peace is enough. And everything does happen for a reason. A part of me. Insomnia's the reason River and I met in first place, at the coffee shop. We never would've become as close if it wasn't for the shared disorder. And though he may never find a cure for his condition as quickly and unexpectedly as me, it's better if he doesn't. My nights are of River Mullaney -if he finds a cure to his condition, our entire friendship may fade. Ugh. Why do I even care about this boy I barely now? “But don’t worry,” Sebastian says, a mischievous glint in his eye. “River took excellent care of you.” This makes me feel severely uncomfortable, especially since Sebastian’s exchanging looks with River. Naturally, I turn to the boy next to me to see the look they’re exchanging. “Now!” Sebastian’s voice yells in excitement. River kisses me. Actually, it wouldn’t be considered one since it wasn’t more than two seconds. A brush of lips is a more accurate description. When he pulls away, he doesn’t look at me once; He merely holds out his demanding hand at Avril and raises his eyebrows. Grudgingly, my best friend gives him five dollars before slapping Sebastian on the arm. When the naïve boy asks her why she found the need to slap him, she just slapped him again, saying something about her personal collection of stamps going to waste. River just smiles kindly and tells her she doesn’t have to give it to him. Avril looks happy for a second. Then she hits Sebastian again. River finally gathers the nerve to look at me. “Sorry about that, Jane. “ Quickly, he looks away again and pretends to be surfing through the menu. I want to tell him it’s upside down, but feel too angered. “And I’m not kissing Jane,” a voice states. River walks in, his hands folded and a blank look in his eyes, not notifying me of any emotions crossing his face. “Never will.”
What happened to that promise? “Sorry’s not going to solve anything!” I say, awfully calm. When he looks up from his menu, a startled expression is on his face. “You’re such an idiot! Aren’t you supposed to be Christian?” River opens his mouth, as if he’s about to explain, but I stand up on the same and make my way out. After all, I can’t use the normal exit because he’s sitting on the side of entrance. My elbows are stiffened, but everything else feels light. Air. Like a dream has made itself into my mind. I want it to be a dream. For one thing, I wanted River to kiss me. So badly that I didn’t realise my own feelings until he actually took action. But for some stupid bet? It was absolutely shallow. Cold and heartless. Out of all people, I thought he was deep enough to understand. After all, humans who’ve committed suicide –well, tried to– know the world as a bitter, temporary place. Then what’s he doing kissing girls for stupid bets? A part of me wants to go home and cry in my sleep. All because a boy with no understanding of love had kisses me. But my mother is more horrible than I can ever imagine. She’s worse than everything else; because she reminds me of my loss so many times it’s painful. The times I wanted everything to be normal; I want my father to take care of me. Relax, smile and breathe. Nobody can see through my happy façade. My own mother doesn’t even bother to do anything about my sadness, even though I’m sure she’s well aware of it. Sebastian and Avril don’t look at me long enough to realise something is wrong. Lulu is a complete stranger in my life. She’s one of my friends who knows very little about me, so seeing through a mask is completely out of the question for her. River was the only one who saw through it. Witnessed me as who I am. Didn’t judge me and didn’t let me do the same. So why am I judging him right now? How do I know it was all for a dare? Maybe there was some other bet going on, about how kissing girls who’re secretly loved. I have no idea why he did it, except the fact he needed money. This is enough to cut my heart into pieces. Before I think of any more heartbreak, my mind races through a whole variety of thoughts, from the picture River gave to me to the image of my father leaving. And then, out of nowhere, Tia’s in my head. Flashing her perfect skin and beautiful eyes which I’ve never gotten. The colour of honeydew. I hate that girl.
All of a sudden, everything points to her. Every accusation. And then I realised it’s her fault I’m like this right now. Cousins are such mean people. Indescribably cruel. She’s the reason I have insomnia. If I never stayed up so late for those weeks, maybe I would’ve forgotten the fact I’m still searching for my father. Perhaps the only reason he’s still on my mind is because I think of him every time I stay up –which is very often. Because, after all, it was my first purpose. To get him back into my life once more. If insomnia hadn’t come into my life, it would’ve never happened. Also, I would’ve never met River. All of our meetings were during the nights, where both of us are awake. If I wasn’t suffering from insomnia, there’s no way I would’ve been at the café or sleeping out with him so late. This meant he might’ve just been a normal friend like Sebastian and Avril, and I would’ve never fallen for him. It’s all her fault. Yes. It’s all Tia’s fault I’m so hopeless. That I can’t do anything about my sleeping patterns. Regardless of how angry my mother would be, I open the door of my house with my key. But before I walk in, I can’t help looking back at the backyard. Since it’s really dark with nothing but the streetlights guiding my path, there isn’t much that can be seen. However, there is enough light to see there aren’t the bits and pieces of the gnome. Mum must’ve cleaned them up to hide all evidence. I open the door and walk straight to my room, pretending not to notice her drinking a glass of apple juice. Before I can escape completely, she says, “Tia’s coming the day after tomorrow. Make sure you make a good impression on her.” With those words, she is completely silent. Entering my room, I can’t help thinking about what I can do to get my revenge. There’s no doubt Tia has everything going her way. She doesn’t have insomnia herself –I asked her after the visit when she got my sleeping patterns mixed up, and she simply said she didn’t have any difficulty sleeping. Merely, she set me up and doesn’t bother to change things to the way they were. Speaking of her luckiness, she probably already has a boyfriend. That’s something; I won’t show her the weakness for. Even if I’m holding a grudge against River, I know he’d never agree. So then I’ll have to get somebody who’s nice and talented enough… Michael is the only one I can think of right now, who’s still single and won’t have girls chasing after me for stealing him away from them.
I’ll ask him tomorrow at rehearsals and maybe he’ll agree. Hazel, Michael and Diana are never apart. It’s quite disturbing how Diana and my mother’s name are almost the same, but I try not to think about it. For the next couple of weeks, they’re going to be my new friends. I can’t stand people who dare me to do something, and the most stupid person who actually does it without any permission. The whole incident replays in my head, and I feel my blood boil. Who knew one simple incident can cause me to separate from my friends forever? Definitely, not me. When I walk up to my dresser, I see the doll of River sitting there. Truly taking it as a voodoo doll, I take out all my badges –school captain, high school hall monitor, etc.– and begin poking at the doll with it. Finally deciding that River needs to feel pain like no other, I begin sticking pins permanently in the doll. One through his shoulder for making me think he was my friend. Two in both of his arms for kissing me. Another one at the back of his head for suffering the same thing as me. And last but not least, one piercing his stomach for making me fall for him, even though it’s hardly his fault. It’s going to be harder than ever possible to separate myself from River, especially since he and I are both playing major roles. But it won’t stop me from trying.
Michael grins at me before agreeing with his carefree voice. If I wasn’t wearing such an itchy dress –because Avril made us wear everything we’re going to wear on the actual day– maybe I would’ve even hugged him. I can’t believe he just agreed to become my fake boyfriend, in order to impress my cousin who probably doesn’t have one herself. Of course, that’d be a little strange for to not have one, but what if she just broke a heart? It’d be like her. “Thank you,” I say, although it’s an understatement. “Is there anything you’d like me to do in return?” Although it's more than likely this entire ploy will fall, I'm still going to proceed with it. For the mere reasoning of showing Tia that, despite her controlling my life many years ago, I've got full control -enough control to get a boyfriend myself. “How ‘bout hanging out with me, Hazel and Diana? It gets really lonely sometimes, especially since we’re separated from your group.” A question which never popped up in my mind before interfered with my thoughts. “Wait a minute… how come you’re separated from our group in first place?” “Sebastian hates us. And since he and Avril are going out, so does she.” He sighs before placing his hands in the pocket of his jeans. A curly-blond strand of hair is falling on his eyes; a he uses one of his thin fingers to move it out of his face. Since he has blond streaks in his dark-brown hair, he has two different types of colours. “Do you hate us, Jane?” “To be honest, I don’t think Sebastian and Avril have a valid reason to hate you in first place. Do you know why?” “It’s some stupid argument I had back in sixth grade. Even though Sebastian shows it in front of everybody, and pretends to treat me the same around everyone else, he still hates me when it’s just the two of us.” Despite every effort, I can’t help feeling pity for the boy in front of me. No matter what he does, Sebastian won’t forgive him for something back in sixth grade. Of course, it’s not fair to say Sebastian’s completely at fault; after all, the things Michael said could’ve placed a scar on Sebastian for life.
But why won’t Sebastian forget something which happened so many years ago? Sure, it won’t be too easy to forget something, but forgiveness is something which his required. Michael has grown up since sixth grade; why can’t Sebastian accept it? “Hi ya, Jane.” I hear Avril’s voice but I ignore it completely. “Jane? Why aren’t you talking to anybody today? I mean, you’re rehearsing and everything, but why aren’t you talking to us directly?” “Dunno,” I lie, even though I know exactly why. “Why’re you guys so mean to Michael?” I say, as I see Sebastian approach me. “Very straightforward,” Michael whispers in my ear, and I can almost see the smile he has on his face. "I try my best," I whisper back. The fact he isn’t pulling me back is something which startles me. Most males would repulse the second I say I’m going to make everything right. Michael has something in him which nobody else does; faith. He believes I’m able to turn things around, which is a complete contrast to the people I face in normal life; my friends and my only family member. “But you don’t have to do this, Jane,” he adds. Even though he’s saying it, there’s no wild craze for me to back out of telling Sebastian off. Michael’s not pressuring me to do anything. Instead, he’s keeping his voice calm and neutral. This alone comforts me I’m doing the right thing. “We’re not mean to him or anything.” Sebastian shrugs, looking at Michael with his glass-blue eyes. “He’s just not like us.” His eyes suddenly turn wild, and I know he has an idea. “Tell you what, Jane? You survive him for a whole week, and he’s welcome to join our group whenever he wants.” The way he says it angers me, and I’m ready to charge at him. But I feel Michael’s hand on my shoulder and almost hear him whisper, “He’s not worth it.” It’s true. This is a side of Sebastian I’ve never seen; a cold, harsh version. What about his natural cheery self? Or was that all a mask, and he simply deceives people by hiding how horrible he truly is? But rather than continue the reasoning for his unnatural take on life, I stare at him with determination shining in my eyes.
As it turns out, the people around me have masks too -I just haven't been noticing them. Avril and her toughgirl mask when she cares more about her hair than her boyfriend; Sebastian and his cheery, light-hearted covering whereas he's jealous, bitter and impatient on the inside. And then there's RivNo. I can't think about him right now. He has to apologise to me himself -especially since he had no right to kiss me back then. How does he call himself a Christian? A sudden thought startles me. Just because he's Christian doesn't mean he's not supposed to make mistakes. He's so far away from perfect... and yet, I find myself surprised at how much I expect out of him. No more River. I'm not going to let thoughts of him overtake my life. “You’re on, Sebastian. Just wait until I win.” Then I break the whole serious concept by sticking out my tongue and dragging skin under my eye down, which is considered a childish insult in Japan. Even though we’re at war, both of them laugh before walking away to discuss something about the play. Because no matter what happens, they’re still my best friends. Even if I’m outraged at them at any part of my life, they stick to me like superglue and that alone makes me feel loved. Cared for and almost lucky. “Hey, Jane,” says Hazel coyly. When I spin around, I see a giant grin on her face. I don’t understand what her name has to do with her appearance, because she doesn’t have any hazel on her face at all. Just blue eyes and dark brown hair. “What’s your favourite colour?” “Yeah! We’re friends now, aren’t we?” says an enthusiastic Diana. “I mean, I already know that it’s red, but do you have specifics?” All of a sudden, there’s a deep panging in my chest. Nobody knows about my favourite colour except… William. And now, my mum. She’s a stalker for life. Of course, everybody else assume it’s green, because it had been my favourite colour since fourth grade. But how does Diana and Hazel know about my inner-most secretive thoughts? As if reading my mind, Michael says, “If you’re wondering how they know that, it’s because they read the book your mum wrote. It’s everything about you and your life, right?”
“And we figured out you’re a lot like us.” Diana laughs at this, so carefree. Her dirty-blonde hair is flowing behind her, despite there being no wind in this hall. “Before, we thought you were some inhumane, snobby person. But you're like everyone else.” “It’s a good thing,” Hazel cuts in. “Don’t' take it the wrong way!” I don’t know what to say. Is my act to show everybody I’m so happy resulting in me being perfect? River had brought up I think I’m perfect too many times to count, but that doesn’t mean I truly am. But these girls –and Michael, being a boy– thought so too. Maybe River was merely stating the obvious thought of every other human being. My mother sometimes admits she wished I had more flaws to pick on, but doesn’t she realise there’s another side of me? Like the one River had noticed without any effort. Again with the male lead of the play; why can’t I forget him? He’s so immature and childish, and yet, it’s one of the things I love about him. How he’s not afraid to be silly, but knows exactly what kind of a person he needs to be when listening to somebody else talk. At the end of the day, I can’t help feeling envious of him. And a shortness of breath every time I picture his blue eyes in my mind. * The day when Tia comes, one week later, everything is a mess. My mother is desperately looking for the perfect outfit so she can outdo her sister, but it honestly doesn’t matter at the very end. Because what she picks out is more hideous than all the worst clothing put together. The colour is a sickly green resembling vomit, with white streaks slashing through it like knives. Even the streaks are horrible, because they all go in different directions and have no impact in the appearance –with or without the streaks, it’s unimaginably horrible. When they finally come at the gate in their white sedan, I look through the blinds and find myself exhaling loudly. Of course. Tia. I hate that girl. She’s the reason all of my problems are so severe and the cause of my entire life taking twists and turns.
If it wasn’t for her, maybe this whole life would be different for me. Although it has never crossed my mind, I decide I need revenge. Even if it’s the slightest bit of a practical joke, she deserves every ounce of pain she receives. When I open the door, a smile plastering on my face, I see Tia dressed in a white gown. Looking almost angelic with her auburn hair into a neat bun, and honeydew eyes shining. Of course she’d look really pretty and pale, like an English woman, because my mother is Australian/British and therefore, so is her sister. “Jane,” she breathes, gently holding my hands in an embrace. The way she causes her eyes to twinkle is a miraculous gift which I wish I had. It’d be so perfect for acting. “It’s been so long!’ “Oh my gosh, Jane!” Aunty Isla enters the room, her eyes widening in shock. Despite carrying suitcases containing possibly fragile items, she drops them with a clunk because pulling me into a hug. Her blonde curls tickle the back of my neck, while I resist the urge to pull away. Tickling is the worst way to affect me. “You’ve grown up so beautiful and tall!” I smile at this for a second, before realising she probably said it out of pity. Sadness that my beauty doesn’t come near the inheritance Tia has. My mother probably doesn’t want me to look a thing like my father, when in reality; she sees a female version of him every time she looks at me. This makes my whole stomach churn, and whatever happiness I once had, disappear. My mother steps out with a goofy grin on her face, and I’m startled as I examine her when she hugs her sister. This is the first time, I’ve seen her so happy. Not once in my life has she ever given me the sweet, understanding smile she just gave her sister. I guess daughters can never compare to one’s sister, or maybe it’s just that with this particular family. Because when Aunty Isla returns the smile, I know she has given the same one a lot of times to Tia. Last but not least, Aunty Isla’s husband, Gabriel, enters the room and instantly drops his bags. He then spends the next five seconds, heavily catching his breath before giving Mum a weak smile and greeting. His almost-bald head is shown completely, which is quite strange because his skin is perfectly smooth and has no signs of aging. His baldness must be due to genetics. “Tia, you and Jane will be sharing a room,” my mother says to my cousin. Mum smiles at me, but even I can tell it’s fake. Why can’t she give me a caring gesture like every other normal parent can? The answer is simple; would I be able to smile at somebody who looked exactly like somebody I once loved? Although it’s far too early to think about loving boys, what if somebody looked like River?
Every time I look at them, I would think I’m talking to River, unconsciously saying lots of things which I’d only discuss with him. Maybe it’s the same thing with Mum, except it’s between my father and me. She just can’t look at me without thinking of all the bitter times between my father. But it couldn’t be all bad, could it? I know she never got married to him in first place; however, she couldn’t have completely disregarded him. She went to his house before falling pregnant; they must’ve been really close. Maybe so together, that they never thought much of the whole birth process after. Perhaps it seemed only natural. “So, Tia, this is our room.” I gesture around randomly. “Just unpack your stuff and place them wherever. I don’t need much space at all.” “Jane.” Tia finally speaks up, glancing through her window. She stands up and walks straight to it to get a better view, not looking at me. “Who is that boy?” Sure enough it’s Michael, waving to me. A smile plays on my lips, because this is what we arranged. He would “coincidentally” come to my house, claiming he left his teddy bear here. This would indicate we’re really close –so near that we know everything about each other, and that he doesn’t have anything to hide. “Oh, that’s just my boyfriend.” Tia looks like she’s about to suffer from a seizure.
The amazing moment repeats itself as I’m sitting in the café, typing busily on the computer. Tia’s eyes were bulging, and everything went according to plan. What I didn’t expect, is how she didn’t have a boyfriend in first place. Apparently, she gets too pushy with her guy-friends and they end up leaving her fending for herself. At least, that’s what she told me. I have no idea if I should take it as a lie or the complete truth. But what reasoning would she have behind lying about something insulting to her reputation? What normal person would do that? From what I can remember, and what used to be, she’s not the type to make up things like that. Her reputation means everything to her; everything which people saw her as. And she chooses to tell me the truth… Still, I continue to read through William’s emails, and can’t help looking for clues. Every message we exchanged, I scan through them for any signs that I’m mistaken. There really could be a person out there, and knowing River, he probably blackmailed him. The dim lights seem even more comfortable, as I feel the urge to kick back and relax in my normal spot. Unfortunately, I’m afraid it may trigger memories I’d rather forget. My original seat is exactly where River and I sat together, against my will, when he forcefully kissed me. Shaking the disturbing thoughts out of my head, I continue to surf through the messages. Everything which I said about my life spinning around like a top, making me feel dizzy. Why can’t I find the answers I want? This is starting to frustrate me. With my fists clench, I search through a random message we exchanged. In exact words, it’s more of a chat log than anything else. * William: Hi ya, Jane! I’m at Lapo Hospital right now. I might not talk to you for a couple of days because they want me to rest for a while. My memory’s going fuzzy… Anyhow, good luck with your life goals, and the challenges that await you! *
I shut the screen of my laptop. All of a sudden it doesn’t matter who William is. He has been the best friend I could ever ask for, listening to every complaint and feeling to ever cross my mind. But I need to speak to him. Softly tell him to never tell anybody else these personal details. Knowing River, William probably was forced to tell everything to him. Why are you thinking so ill of River? Because of one simple mistake he made. No boy kisses me and gets away with it. The fact it’s for a dare just makes the whole situation worse than I can imagine. Something snaps in my mind, as I think of William’s location. I remember having this conversation with him back in eighth grade, where I lived back in the big city of Brisbane. He has truly been with me everywhere, but that’s not the point. Lapo Hospital. Why does it sound so familiar to me? Lapo… Apol, Pola… Opal. Isn’t that the one we have in this small town? Owners of the hospital run the bookstore which was taken down not-so-long ago. The only reason that bookstore existed was so the hospital could make more of a profit. But again, that’s off-topic. This is a hallelujah moment for me, as I realise it’s right. It’d be no doubt if this boy lived in this town. Sure, it’s a one in a million chance, but one of the only reasons we met up online was because we both had the same town in our “Locations” area. Even though I didn’t move to Swan Hill yet, it still felt as if I was going to live there my whole life. This was where my mother grew up, and she promised me that once she finished all of her novel-writing courses in the big city, we’d be moving back. So it was only common sense to put that under my “locations,” because Lake Swan plays a huge impact on me. Now that I’m thinking about it, things would’ve been so much different if I never thought of coming here. What if my mother never told me, and I had the brain to not put it out in the public, either. William would’ve never known me, listened to everything and kept me sane. And I probably wouldn’t be alive right now. Knowing my inner-subconscious, there’s nothing more than ten minutes required to make a suicidal decision. The most scary bit is how it’s hardly enough time, but from a teenager’s point of view, that’s all is required. Ten minutes to make a decision which would not only change one’s life, but their surroundings also.
There are creeps running through my spine; my hands are shaking. But I make a silent promise to myself. I’m determined more than ever to find out about River’s secretive past. Tomorrow, Mum’s making sure River’s family, Tia’s family and us take a tour around the town they once grew up in. Maybe when we enter the hospital, I can ask for records of a “William Mullaney.” Maybe it’ll be hard to pull off. But I’m going to give it my best. * “Oh, what a beautiful day!” Mum exclaims, carelessly swinging around the picnic basket and looking at River’s father with a smile. The most sickening thing is how he returns the gesture, right in front of his wife. Mrs. Mullaney doesn’t react at all; instead, she holds a sleeping Elise closer in her supportive arms. “I’m so glad we organized this, don’t you?” River and I exchange looks before I know it. For some weird reason, we both have the same idea and expressions of disgust show up on both our faces. When I realize what I’m doing, I look away with my face flushed. Why am I communicating with that boy? I thought I was done with him! Unfortunately, it takes a lifetime to forget River Mullaney. Avril and Sebastian recognized him the minute his name was mentioned back at Avril’s house, when I was talking about the new neighbors. I didn’t know his name, and yet, they knew exactly who I was talking about. Needless to say, it truly does take a forever to forget him. I’m about to find out the hard way. We’re sitting in the park, exactly where we would ride to school every day. “So let me get this straight,” he says at last. “You can predict the future and you can smell what I’ve had to eat?” My eyebrows arch upward, as a smirk appears. “Nice work. How long did it take you? Roughly a half hour?” “Nope. I recognized a lie the minute it came out of your mouth. I just liked seeing you think I actually believe you.”
Darn it! Why are memories of him coming up? River is absentmindedly spreading butter on his taco, but the most disgusting thing is how it might not be so absentminded after all. Elise, my mother, Tia and her father, Mr. and Mrs. Mullaney are all kicking around a soccer ball aimlessly, leaving only River and me alone. “Sure.” She pauses. “Pickled-onions-in-the-middle-of-a-desert; no, I can’t. I’m so sorry, Jane! But you know the Brovilles?” She shudders, making me feel cold also. “Brovilles” are the names she gave to her cousins, both boys and two years apart; one is eight and the other, four. “Bro” for “brothers” and “ville” because they’re seriously evil. “Well… I kinda have to babysit them for the entire night.” “What a waste of a Saturday!” “Tell me about it. But hey, uh, I’m sure River will be interest–” “No.” “Why not?” Wow. Somehow, she manages her voice to sound like a kindergartener. “You guys are so cute together!” “Just no. Oh, look! Mum’s calling me, I’ve gotta go.” “Jan–” I hung up before she can finish saying my name. Everybody saw us as more than friends. Even my best friend was trying to convince me it was for the best. Maybe he truly was forced to do it; after all, he isn’t the type to create arguments with anyone besides myself. Actually, I’d consider him more of a peacemaker than anything else. “You see, boys are weird like that. We never show interest for somebody until they’re not available anymore. Avril was not in-demand or anything, so I made her one.” He shrugs. “It kind of makes us think about what the other guy sees in that girl, and it turns out well.” Scoffing down a piece of chocolate cake, I’m surprised he’s not choking. “I’m still going to get you that picture, so don’t worry.” For a couple of minutes, I simply blink. Trying to digest all he has just said. The kindness behind his voice, the growing comfort in his voice. I think it’s fair to assume he’s getting more comfortable with me around than at the beginning, where he wasn’t afraid to bite me for the sake of a book.
I randomly burst out laughing at that memory. River looks up from his “scrumptious” afternoon snack, but instead of questioning my sanity, he smiles. It’s warm and almost welcoming, and I’m caught off-guard. Something about him, even to this day, mystifies him. Attracts me. I’ve always been the type to never be intimidated by boys who’re immature, but in his case, I can tell his immaturity is just a mask. He probably uses it to have more fun. The serious and mature side of him doesn’t want to show itself; just like I can’t bring my happy façade to disappear and replace it with one of my genuine, uncaring modes. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he begins with sarcasm. “Maybe after I buy it, we can continue discussing this subject?” His tone is flawless and posh enough for me to throw a book at his face. Well, imagine the incident in my head, anyway. After all, isn’t this what books are for besides reading? “I don’t think so.” “Then you leave me no choice.” The most unbelievable incident happens within the next three seconds. One second, he’s lunging forward to attack me, the next his mouth is close to my arm, and the third, his teeth rip through my flesh. With a howl of pain, my hand loses the minor grip I manage to hold, as he snatches the book and dashes toward the counter, yelling an apology. But I’m far too concerned about infecting with rabies than anything else. Subconsciously, my hand presses gently on my arm. Exactly where the bite mark was. River hadn't made the best first impressions, but it's definitely unforgettable. “Remembering the first time we met?” he says with a grin, reading my thoughts. My jaw drops despite my silent grudge against him. “How did–” “Your thoughts are so obvious, it’s like they’re written on your forehead in permanent marker.” He gives me one of his toothy grins; one which shows all of his teeth and food stuck between them. "And you're holding your arm like a dog bit it." "Maybe one did..." I mutter under my breath. "A very inconsiderate one." But he doesn't hear this.
Simply enough, he’s smiling to disgust me -especially with all the food stuck between his teeth. Why do boys find pleasure in such activities? I feel as if the entire nation is under a secret conspiracy to embarrass me to my doom. But instead of feeling repulsed by his actions, I laugh before I can stop myself. His smile falters. “See? You really do like me.” It’s such a soft whisper, that if I claimed not to hear it, he would believe me. Maybe pride is what made me do exactly that. “Um, what did you say?” He shakes his head and raises his palm as if to tell me, “Don’t worry about it. You’re too dull for things like that.” “Let’s go the hospital!” I say, suddenly perked up. Everybody else is coming towards River and I, huffing and puffing because kicking around a soccer ball is so much exercise. “I mean, Mum, don’t you want to show Aunty Isla things that she’s familiar with?” I want to see River’s face when I say it. Since my thoughts are so obvious, surely he’ll know what I’m thinking, right? Everything is going exactly according to plan, as his eyes grow wide. “But we’d have to go through the graveyard to get there…” Mr. and Mrs. Mullaney still haven’t caught up yet, and heaven knows how unfit they are, because they’re still huffing and puffing as if they’ve reached their doom. Finally, they can’t stand the heat any longer and collapse with beads of sweat running down their foreheads. Therefore, they aren’t there when River needs them most –agreeing with him for not going to the hospital. Because of this reason, Aunt Isla merely scolds him for growing up rich and fortunate and not being able to walk a short distance. This makes giggles erupt internally, but I don’t dare voice my thoughts aloud. River gives me a cold glare, but simply walks along the trail towards the graveyard. The green grass under our feet, joined to the park, is now disappearing along the way. All of a sudden we’re no longer in the green and merry park, but in a cold and dark graveyard. The way Elise is trembling, anybody could mistake her for fainting. Tia looks confident and holds a poker-faced expression, but I can see how tightly she’s clinging onto Aunt Isla’s hand.
Headstones of all varieties are shown, but I keep my head down and continue walking. Because I’m so uncomfortable, I glance at the name for each of them as I walk past. Paula Gregory McKenna Olsen Fredrick O’Neil Reagan Amanda Ian Ursula Smith Oscar Underwood Ryder William Mullaney Wait a minute… Ryder William Mullaney… Ryder William Mullaney… Ryder William Mullaney… River’s first name and last, this is exactly the sort of name his parents would give away. The middle name is so familiar, it’s cutting holes in my chest. I feel myself drifting away, but can’t help looking ahead towards a half-turned River who still hasn’t taken his eyes off me. Seeing my intense stare, he turns around to meet my eyes with his electric-blue ones. Something about his stare was warning me about something, and somehow I understood. This was his brother’s headstone. William’s graveyard.
My whole body goes cold as I stand there for countless minutes. “Okay, Jane, we’re…” Mum begins, but I don’t hear the rest of her sentence. Before I know it, I see her walking off, hand-in-hand with Elise, Mr. and Mrs. Mullaney. Everything feels like it’s fitting into place. River had a brother. One who went by his middle name on chats. No wonder he hadn’t been replying –he’s already six-feet underground. But I remember something about people accusing River of killing his own brother. When I stare ahead, I realize River’s right in front of me. His breathing is heavy, and yet, he doesn’t seem like he’s worried or hesitating. Like he’s completely cool with me knowing something so dark about him. Is this why he tried to kill himself? Those unnecessary attempts? “Your mum said she’d pick you up later,” he whispers, his voice soothing as if he doesn’t want me to freak out. “I guess she’d feel bad if she were to separate you from the graveyard.” When he sees me looking at him with an intense expression, he sighs. “Do you have any questions?” Feeling more comfortable, I sit down straight on the dirt. He looks surprised that I would even consider it, but he shrugs off the astonishment and copies my movement. There are so many questions buzzing around, stinging my cranium like hornets. But somehow I manage to hold everything in. “How did you kill him?” “I didn’t mean to. It was my fault he died, yes, but it was an accident. I was driving Dad’s car while he sat in the passenger seat with another broken bone.” I remember “William” telling me that during our countless conversations. He would tell me how he spent most of his life in the hospital, and how it’d become his second home. Nothing William said was ever a lie; he was too vague to identify fully, or understand. That’s all. I remember him telling me he had a brother younger by two years, but I didn’t pay attention to the rest of his family. So the brother is River. “I was the one driving. Neither of us had our driving licenses yet, and I had minimal experience with cars. Somehow, he was the one who died. Fate was cruel. I guess.” For the first time, he looks at me directly. As if searching for something in my eyes, before wearily looking down. “This is exactly why I didn’t want you to know.” “What–”
“Pity. I can see it in your eyes. And it’s far worse than if you’d spent the next ten years accusing me of murder.” His arms tense up, as if he’s holding back from doing something. “Because with pity, I can’t control the person feeling it. I can’t change things around for them.” “Are you sure you haven’t mixed up pity with understanding?” As if charmed by my words, he glances up with an unfathomable expression. But he’s listening to me, and right now, that’s all what matters. “My father died a couple of months ago. I barely knew him, and though we’re supposed to be close to each other, he’s just another stranger to me.” There is the slightest spark of astonishment in River’s face, as if discovering a new piece of detail. One which happened too recently for Ryder –or him– to know. “I know for a fact that ‘William’ didn’t like you at all.” For some reason, the minute I said those teasing words about his brother, he begins to laugh. The solid tension building up in the air disappears, and I’m marvelled at how naturally we’re able to speak to each other. Because River knows exactly what it’s like to have a family member lost, even if one isn’t close to them. We’re both distant from the deceased person, and though we hold on memories of them so dearly, at the end, they’re still strangers. My father and his brother. In so many ways, we’re different. “Well, if you truly don’t feel pity, then I’m glad I told you.” He hugs his knees and looks at me from above his hair. I have no clue how he does that, but even through his black-wave curtain of hair; I can still see his illumination blue eyes. Despite him telling me something he never thought he would, there’s relief in his eyes. I can see it. Maybe it’s about seeing somebody else with a similar life-issue as him. “I’m guessing your suicidal attempts and parents fighting are all connected to the same incident? Along with your double-skateboard, because your brother always used to ride on it?” He’s surprised. “Yeah. You know?” Shrugging, I say, “Guess your thoughts are being written on your forehead as well.” I pause. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I say, changing the depressing subject. All of a sudden, everything makes a whole lot of sense. When he was telling me, on our first meeting, how I’m lucky to not have something which haunts me. Of course he’d know this better than anybody else –he was the reason his brother died. River doesn’t have to think twice. “Happy and guilt-free.” The thing is, even though it’s a very clichéd and overused reply, it still has meaning coming out of his mouth.
Because sitting in front of me is a boy who has lost his brother and his sanity. Perhaps when his brother was alive, he didn’t realize how much he actually loved him. It’s the same with my father –though I always thought he would return, and I always hoped for his arrival. But not once did I realize how much I truly loved him and how he could make me smile in all the gloomy stages through life. “So this is your brother’s grave, huh?” My hands point vaguely towards the headstone. “Very lively fella, isn’t he?” The tiniest bit of a smile crosses through his lips. His eyes glint. “I’m surprised you even have the guts to say that. So many people are scared of bringing him up, let alone teasing him.” His eyes soften. “But it’s a good thing. Sometimes, when I want to talk to him, nobody wants to bring him up.” The sparkle in his eyes reappears. “Let’s talk to him!” “Are you crazy or completely out of your mind?” “Both.” He cracks his knuckles. “Now that we have that question out of the way, how ‘bout you go first?” I clear my throat. “Hey there, William. You might remember me. Jane? You know, the one who you’d always talk about? Anyhow, your brother is sitting in front of you as well. I’m glad you were able to escape the misery he put you through. I mean, you’d complain about him almost every day!” Both River and I start laughing, even though it’s nothing humorous about talking to a dead person. It’s not that we don’t have any respect for William, but quite the opposite. We have enough respect to consider him a living person. To still think of him as a human being existing in the world this very moment. There’s something about talking to the dead which really grips at my heartstrings. It’s the way one feels like they’re talking to a wall which only echoes what they’re saying straight back into their faces. “But with all seriousness, he’s not that bad of a person. He just needs to stop kissing people for the sake of dares.” I stick my tongue out at River, and even I’m astonished at how easily I’ve given in. But there’s no meaning behind a kiss if there’s no love, right? It’s not like it’s my first kiss anyway. “You’re so lame.” He elbows me in the ribs. “You do know I didn’t take any of the money offered for the dare, right?” No. Actually, I didn’t know that. “I don’t get immersed by peer pressure. “
I’m just about to ask him why he kissed me –if it wasn’t for the dare– but the sound of footsteps racing halts me. Sure enough, Mrs. Perfect with her auburn curls approaches me. For a second, I’m in such a great mood that I’m smiling at her like she’s my best friend in the whole entire world. Big mistake. “Michael’s not really your boyfriend, is he?” “No.” The minute the word escapes my mouth, so fast that it surprises her, River stifles a laugh. “Oh, he kind of asked me out.” She shrugs a goofy grin on her face. She probably didn’t expect me to tell her the truth, but since she told me about her life in all honesty, it’s only fair I do the same. “Dead giveaway. But I’ll be paying you back.” Even in her voice it’s obvious she’s not intending to do anything. It’s just a light joke. “And I’ll be waiting.” Everything, in a matter of half an hour, seems to be problem-free. I’m not out for revenge anymore against Tia, because fooling her into believing something is enough for me. I just realized that after talking to William. I guess he’s truly the solution to can talk to him and feel all my worries leaving my body. It’s this aura he carries around with him, and the way he can always clear away my worries. Though, problems will always remain. My mother will still continue to disown me; River’s going to be a better performer than me in the play; Dad will never come back; Michael’s going to be upset that I haven’t tolerated him for a whole week. In fact, it’s the last problem which really makes me feel guilty. Especially since Sebastian will continue to treat him as an outcast if I’m not helping him. “River,” I say as we’re walking back. “Could you do me a favor?” “It depends. What is it?” “Help me make Michael a member of our group?” River sticks two fingers in his throat. “Never.” This makes me scowl, but I don’t say anything for the next couple of long seconds. Of course he’d disagree so quickly –he’s the typical male who doesn’t care about feelings in this pain-stricken world. So heartless and cold. How can he call himself a Christian? All of a sudden, I feel as if I’ve forgotten to ask Tia something very important.
“Tia, did you say yes to Michael going out with you?” “I said I’d think about it.” She grins. “But he doesn’t know me at all.” “Yes, he does,” I blurt out before I can stop myself. Both of them stop at their tracks, staring at me. “I… uh… kind of told him a lot about you.” “Good things?” “Let’s just say that I’m surprised he asked you out.” Both of them laugh at this, before I turn to River and glare at him. “How come you don’t want to help him?” “Because he’s awful. He used to steal my crayons back in third grade.” Both Tia and I stare at River, speechless. So this is why he wishes Michael never existed? Because of something so immature and childish? Hey, wasn’t he the one who’s always accepting people, no matter what their flaws are? This irritates me greatly to think he’s ignoring Michael of all people –the sweet and innocent Michael, who never did anything wrong– just because of a few things which happened in his childhood. Tia, all of a sudden, starts laughing. As if this is all just a huge joke and River’s strange sense of humor. For a second, he simply throws her a confused expression before a slow smile spreads through his face. Like a charm, my cousin stops laughing. She realizes he’s serious. Who knew something so little –stealing crayons– could influence one’s relationship with another? Feeling rather disgusted, I know this is something which shouldn’t be judged. Just because somebody used to steal things when they’re younger, doesn’t mean they’re going to do things like that their whole lives. It’s just like how I couldn’t run one-hundred meters when I was little, all because of my asthma condition. Just last year, I won second place, and my asthma has cleared. That definitely is a positive in my eyes, and also another fleeting hope towards everything. Because one can do anything unless they’re weighed down in health.
The weirdest thing is, one month ago I would've been on River's side. I would've believed the past influenced what kind of person somebody is in the present. But this stranger, River Mullaney, has a past he's not proud of -and still, he hasn't lost faith. Not yet. Now that I'm thinking about it, religion must be what saved him. Christianity. Jesus Christ. God. Although it's something many people look down on, it's still influential to anybody -innocent or not. That necklace around his neck, the one with shining glass decorations, was given to him by Rider. Maybe they weren't on best terms, but brothers always want what's best for each other. It'd be inhumane not to show somebody a successful path through life. “Your boyfriend has the lamest reasoning,” says Tia with a scowl, folding her arms. The weirdest thing is, I don’t deny him being my boyfriend. River notices this as well, and although he doesn’t show or say anything, I can tell he’s surprised at how mature I’m being about a false accusation. Because, in his eyes, we’re nothing more than friends. Right? Tia also notices that I haven’t denied it either, and her eyes grow wide. For a long second, her mouth slowly parts as if she’s about to say something. But I interrupt her. “River, how come you won’t let him join in? Aren’t you the one who said judging is bad? Just because he did something younger, doesn’t let you judge what he’ll do in thirty years’ time.” River blinks his intelligent eyes, and for the slightest second, I feel hope lifting up my spirits. Maybe I’ve finally gotten into his brain, and enchanted him with my words. A blank expression crosses his face. “We have our last rehearsal for the play tomorrow. And the real thing’s the day after tomorrow,” he says absentmindedly, not even bothering to stay on topic. “I wonder if there’s going to be any cheese there.” He’s impossible.
The rehearsals, yesterday, when too quickly for words. As I awake from my bed, I feel exhausted. Today, at seven p.m. sharp, is when the real production begins. Thinking about it makes my stomach clench with nervousness. What if I completely forget my lines? Of course, I’ve always been the type of person who thinks of every bad scenario possible before walking out on stage. But of one of them becomes true? And then I’m on stage, without a hope in the air. River will save me. I’m counting on him to make sure I don’t stuff up my lines. He’ll make sure. All of a sudden, I’m surprised at how much fate and trust I’m putting into that boy. This is somebody who I’ve barely known for long, and here I am, counting on him to save me. But the thing is, I know he will. We share a strange kind of bond, where we always think of each other. The voodoo doll of River sits at the dresser. With a smile playing on my lips, I pull out all the pins, one-byone. And watch him –the doll– sit on the dresser peacefully. Probably extremely pleased and smug at how easily I pulled out the pins, and didn’t hesitate while doing so. After all, it’s extremely immature to believe it will actually work –that the pins will affect the doll in any kind of way. Michael’s face flashes into my mind. I have to date him for another couple of days, but he’s already in love with my once-devilish cousin. I yawn. She’s in the shower, using up all the hot water. That matches her devilish personality extremely well. How Michael fell romantically for that girl, I have no clue. Then again, I can kind of see the connections: Tia stole away my sleep, Michael stole River’s crayons. That’s the only similarity I find between them. I guess opposites truly attract. But what if Sebastian, Avril or Lulu see Michael with Tia? Immediately, Michael will be recognised as an outcast. I need to make sure I’m with him at all times. Apparently, he has a horrible temper and has no problem kicking people if things don’t go his way. The last thing I need is a kick. However, Sebastian was the one who told me that. Of course he’s the type to say anything about people who he doesn’t like.
As I search through the pantries, take put the box of cereal and place them on the table, I find Mum’s diary at home. She is extremely organised, so I’m hugely surprised to find she has left something at home. I open the diary, curiosity and guilt bursting out of me. I feel guilty for checking through somebody else’s private property, and at the same time, I feel as if I’m going to die of curiosity if I don’t look now. And also, she pretty much revealed my entire life to the planet -don't I have right to expose herself in my mind? As I examine through her diary, I see it’s filled with letters and things she received from people. She has printed out every email and left them in her diary. Then a letter catches my eye. To: Diane.Everett@yahoo.com.au From: Skater_Boy_13@gmail.com Dear Mrs. Everett, Could we meet up at three p.m. today? I’d like to talk to you at the local café –well, there’s only one in this small town. I’ve got some things to talk to you about, River Mullaney Shock erupts in my body. Today? On the day of the play? What is his plan? What’s he doing? And then it hits me. River Mullaney is having a private affair with my mum! Of course. How stupid of me to think he could only like girls his age –my mum is young-looking and beautiful, despite her cold personality. Even though I’m feeling jealous –though I feel rejected– I need to help him out. I need to congratulate him, because he must be very important if my mother is willing to consider him. Maybe they’ve been dating behind my back. But it isn’t supposed to be like this. I like him. A lot. He’s not supposed to fall for my mum!
There has to be a more logical reason, but why else would a boy invite somebody else’s mother? Maybe his parents are making him chat with my mum. His father is practically obsessed with Diane –it’s probably just a set-up so he can get his son on good terms, before marrying her. What about River’s mum? But the most heartbreaking thing: What about Elise? What’s going to happen if her parents’ divorce each other? She has already lost Ryder. She doesn’t need another family member to leave, because after all, she’ll only be living with one. The thought sends me uncomfortable shocks through my stomach, because she deserves so much better. A innocent child such as herself. You know what? Let him be. I’ll just hold onto the feelings of unrequited love. The last word makes my heart race. Love. Do I really love him? Sure, he understands me. There’s not another soul who can understand me better. “William” would probably be first on my list, but he doesn’t comprehend the feeling of a dead family-member. He died before he could ever realise. During our conversations, he would tell me about how he wouldn’t be able to live without his parents. Did he ever realise fate might be cruel –that he would be dying instead of vice-versa? Standing up, I apply makeup to my face. For the production only, of course. There’s no way I would wear makeup without a special occasion. The other day, when Avril and I were shopping –the same time I learnt River was Christian from his necklace– we found the perfect dresses. Ones which we kept for the production only; we made sure to never wear them at rehearsals. My black-laced dress with a ruffling skirt-like finishing, and Avril’s scarlet sleeveless dress, complete with long, white gloves. The outfits are perfect. Even though the production isn’t till seven, I want to make sure to apply all artificial beauty first. That way, as time passes by, it’ll be hard to see I’m actually wearing makeup. Using my hand, I apply masterful strokes of the mascara on each of my long eyelashes. One by one, mascara is the only makeup I’ve never failed with while using. Tia barges into the room, her hair wrapped in a white towel. Has she ever heard of knocking? “Are you in love with River?”
I poke myself in the eye with the mascara applier. So much for my perfect record. Stammering with my awkward movements, I finally place the shaking bottle of mascara and the brush down, gazing at my cousin with a weak smile. “’Course not.” “So you wouldn’t mind if I stole him from you?” She feigns a yawn. “Michael probably wouldn’t mind at all, would he?” She stares smugly at my unsure expression. “You do, don’t you?” she asks rhetorically in a whisper. “Here’s some advice from good ol’ Tia: Ask him out.” Walking up to her, I elbow her in the ribs. “Whatever.” “Someone’s going to steal him away from you soon.” She makes a face. “You’re just lucky that he’s not my type. He’s far too easily distracted.” No matter how much I’d put into an argument to oppose her, I’d end up losing. Nobody can change that fact. Simply, I nod with a smile breaking on my face. But secretly, I can’t help feeling relieved. * “You know what, Jane? Besides the fact you think you’re perfect, stuck-up-sometimes, annoying, snobby, and insane–” “Just like how you’re easily distracted, bi-polar, bad-tempered, stubborn, insane–” “You’re not too bad,” we say in unison without intending. River’s blue eyes light up as he laughs. “Weird.” He glances at his watch for the fifth time, sighing as he does so. The play is in another ten minutes, and yet, Avril’s still not here. Michael’s sitting in the dressing room, worrying over how he’s going to draw the curtains. Lulu’s applying enough makeup to entertain children as a clown. Sebastian’s brushing his teeth for the third time in a circular motion, because his paranoid-self claims one gets gum-disease if they don’t brush their teeth properly. Behold; my friends.
Only River and I are ready to go on stage, which really bugs me. People will assume we’re a couple, which is the last thing I want. Although I wouldn’t mind it too much… What am I saying? I’m never admitting that Tia’s right. Never, ever, ever. I don’t have any romantic feelings for River, and I’m going to prove it to her! But what good will it do? Even if I don’t admit anything, what will happen? My mind flashes back to what River was doing with my mum at the café, and how I would say I’m happy for him. “Hey, uh, River?” He turns his head idly to me. “Yeah?” “I’m really happy for you. As in, you and my mum.” Without me realising, the words gush out. “I’m so sorry! I saw the letter you wrote to her without even knowing you guys are romantically involved in each other. I know it’s none of my business, but it was a little weird for you to choose my mum. I mean, you should see what she looks like without makeup.” River blinks in confusion. Then slowly, a smirk crosses his face. “I can hear the jealousy in your voice from a mile away, but… what’s this about us being romantically involved with each other?” He bursts out into fits of giggles. “You’re insane, you know that?” “So you guys aren’t making out behind my back?” For some reason, he finds this hysterical and holds his knees to stop himself from losing his balance. I can’t help scowling. Hey, it’s always possible. Knowing River, anything’s likely for him. Nothing’s impossible. My mother is truly pretty, even if she wears a lot of makeup. No wonder my dad fell for her, somehow got her to love him back. “You’re insane,” is all he says to my question. Not even a proper answer. Finally, he meets my eyes. “You’ll know it when you see it; I’ll tell you when it happens.” Again, River’s talking in riddles. But this time I don’t bother decoding him. Avril races towards us, puffing. “I’m so sorry! Noah was watching tape of people making out, and when I asked him what he was doing, he said he was ‘studying.’ Apparently, he signed up for some kissing booth. So I spent the last hour lecturing him, and it still didn’t have any effect.” She shakes her head, her lips thinning in a hard line. “He’s impossible.” Her eyes light up all of a sudden. “River, you make sure the lights are in good condition.”
He seems surprised by this sudden order, but trails off anyway. Avril turns to me, a huge smile on her face. “Kiss him on stage, okay?” “What?” “It’s the perfect ending for my brilliant play parody,” she whines, waving her arms about like a spoilt brat. “Please? For me?” Self-consciously, I folded my arms. “Depends.” “On?” “If he acts all mighty and show-off on stage.” “Ooh… somebody’s jealous!” “I’m not–! …Yeah, okay. Maybe I am. But it’s not my fault, he’s so perfect.” “Perfect? Jane, he has the most flaws I’ve ever seen in any human. How can you… Oh, I get it. You’re in love with him, aren’t you?” That’s when I snap. “For the love of Pete, I’m not in love with him! Why does everyone think I am?” “In love with who?” a voice questions behind me; a boyish voice. Gulping and turning around, I find River with a genuinely puzzled look on his face. “Never mind that. Let’s get on stage.” For some reason, I pray to God right then. Maybe it has something to do with River being Christian, but I suddenly have a new-found respect for religion. I pray to God and ask for forgiveness towards everything bad. The times I’ve deceived people with my perfect façade, which never works. People mistake me for someone who’s happy twenty-four-hours a day, but they don’t know the real me. I just hope I haven’t hurt them by showing my true colours. After my mother’s exposing book came out, a lot of people stopped talking to me. Not my close friends, but the people who usually say hello to me at bus-stops now glance over me like I don’t exist. Of course, I didn’t care.
Ever since I was little, I knew Mum would do something like this –expose all my flaws and hidden secrets. It’s just the kind of character she has, so when she finally did it, I wasn’t surprised at all. I pray to God I didn’t hurt those people who looked up to me; thought there was such thing as perfection. But like Avril said right now, even though she didn’t realise it, perfection’s different in everyone’s eyes. I called River perfect when Avril can’t think of another human being with more flaws. Because in my eyes, he’s perfect –for both his strengths and his weaknesses. I truly do love him, I realise with a jolt. I hate those rare moments when Tia’s right.
For some reason, the entire play went on focused on everybody else. All but me. There was a time where all the characters in the story danced like the world was going to end. Needless to say, all eyes were on Lulu and her perfect figure, gliding across the stage at such ease. Then there was a time where Sebastian played a guitar solo in the play, startling everyone at his music skills. Michael made each of his actions memorable, doing a terrific job at juggling so many minor characters. Diane’s makeup was done perfectly, showing how beautiful she really looked. Avril’s voice narrated a lot of the play, but even without her narration, her talent was recognised; she was the one who made this whole play. Last but not least, there was Hazel who had the widest smile anybody ever saw –one glance and instantly I felt kindness spreading through me. But none of them were in the spotlight as much as River, who did everything absolutely perfectly. Despite being so easily distracted, he remained focussed throughout the entire play. Something which really pulled on my heartstrings. The only reason he’s trying so hard is because he doesn’t want to let us down –otherwise, he’d be as clueless as he always is. And yet, I don’t care about being in the centre of attention anymore. I’m happy just being in this production; doing what I love doing all the time. Then the time came around when Avril –or should I say, the thirteenth fairy– curses Audia forevermore. The only one who can save her is the embrace from a charmless prince. Originally, it was a kiss which made Audia fall asleep once more, but because of River blackmailing Avril that he won’t participate in the play if she doesn’t cut out that scene, she grudgingly did as she was told. Now, she’s telling me to do it. Kiss him. Why would I kiss him? It’s not like– Stop kidding yourself. Maybe you don’t “love” him, but you definitely have some feelings for him. You can’t stand somebody else being with him –look at how you reacted when Tia taunted you. Shaking the thoughts out of my head, I focus on the play. This is the part where Winston –River– tries to impress me with his “charming” jokes.
“Dearest Audia, do you recall what you call a piece of paper –in the shape of a pig– which is thrown ever-soslightly across the room?” “Let me take an estimation; a flying pig?” I ask with my head on my elbow. I yawn. “Winston, I find you to be an utterly-boring human being. Why don’t you give up trying to impress a princess who shall never fall for you?” “Because, my beautiful, I feel as if we’re connected by fate–” “I sure hope not,” I mutter, causing a couple of light-hearted chuckles from the audience. The audience. It’s humongous; I don’t think I’ve ever performed in a larger crowd. Among it are people from surrounding towns –I’m sure they’re only here because River’s performing. “William” always told me they visited surrounding towns a lot. “You realise who you’re turning down?” River stands on the table, his figure tall and proud. “Prince Winston Greg-Edward-Lee Harvats the Third.” I stand up on the table with him. “And do you realise who you’re being turned down by?” The table is purposely wobbly; it’s all part of the act. “Audia Ringwood the First.” At that exact time, the table crashes. “I’ll save you, my dear Audia!” Winston yells with determination. The table is broken into a dozen pieces, as he pretends to be searching for you. “You’re alive, my beautiful!” “No thanks to you, Winston, you ugly criminal.” This is it. That’s when Winston comes up to me and puts me in an embrace, while Michael throws confetti from over the top to show the curse has been broken. River stands up as I mimic his movements, ready to get away from him. I’m supposed to act like I really hate him. “Audia.” He gently touches my elbow. I wince slightly but I don’t protest. Slowly and surely, he pulls me into a full embrace. There is an “aww” coming from the audience. When he pulls me closer than necessary, I feel slightly uncomfortable. Then I realise why. “Look at the audience, Jane,” he whispers, purposely using my name to show he’s talking to me –not Audia. “Tenth row, third seat from my right.”
Without any doubt, my eyes curiously scan the crowd for the seat. Ninth row and second seat… Tenth row and third seat. Right then and there, I forget everything my mind is remembering for the play and continue to gape at the person sitting at that seat. There’s my mum, watching me. A smile on her face as she watches with her face bright. Beside her I see… My jaw drops. The school janitor –my uncle– sitting there and grinning like a complete idiot. I blink, because for a second, I’m taken aback by how similar he looks to my dad. But of course, my father and this man are twins. Were twins. That’s not the main point. What matters is how River managed to get my cold, stubborn and heartless mother to agree to something as time-wasting as this. Mum has never been to any of the plays I’ve performed in –I remember telling this to William, or should I say, Ryder. Either way, River knows about the private conversations because he’s hacked into his brother’s account. For once in my life, I’m happy about him breaking into Ryder’s chatting account. Doesn’t that sound troubling? But it’s true. Everything I ever said about River being inconsiderate and selfish, I take back. He managed to get my mum here; he knew it’s the only thing I ever want in a production, besides me remember all of my lines. I gaze up at him. “What is this?” “Proof that I didn’t invite your mum to the café to make-out with her,” he says with a slight grin. The audience continues to stare at us, and I feel my face burning. I wish the production could be over already– That’s right. I’m the one who does the last move. I stand on my tiptoes. “What’re you–” Before he finishes the sentence, I kiss him. But it can hardly be consider as one, since it is, again, just a brush of lips. The audience bursts out in a round of applause, thinking it’s all part of the script. That’s what I love about plays; even if somebody decides to change it halfway through, nobody will know the original idea. River staggers back, obviously taken by surprise. He’s about to say my name –my real name– and that would ruin the whole production.
Michael has the common-sense to draw the curtains as I hear the audience slowly gathering from their seats and stretching, and a miraculous sound of clapping busting against my eardrums. Nobody is leaving; they’re all staying for the after-party, which will serve dinner for all the guests. Thankfully, there’s someone like Michael who’s smart enough to sense our discomfort. I follow River backstage. He abruptly stops, turning around. I can see his cheeks turning the slight bit scarlet. “Never do that again!” Something clicks in me. Anger boils in my blood and cranium. “As if I’d actually want to kiss you! Avril made me.” “She what?” “She told me to. She said her stupid production wouldn’t go right without it. Technically, I was forced to.” “So if Avril told you to jump off a cliff, would you?” “If it gets me away from you, I would.” “So this is how you repay me? For bringing your mum here? Honestly, Jane, I don’t know why I bother.” This shuts me up instantly. But River has more to say. “You truly are some self-absorbed perfectionist. Go hang out with your own kind.” “Lover’s quarrel already?” Tia says with a smirk. She’s dressed in washed jeans and a clean, red top. Not a piece of colour out of place –that’s her; neat and presentable. “You two sound like a married couple now.” “Stay out of this!” we yell at her in unison. “Whatever.” Tia leaves backstage, leaving only River and me. “River, are you going to tell her?” Something glints in his eyes. Despite looking so angry, it’s a sign of uneasiness. What other secrets does he have hiding from me? Sebastian, Avril, Lulu and Michael are at the after-party. Where else could they be? But for once, I wished they could be with us. I don’t want to fight with River –not at all– but what option does it leave me when we’re both as stubborn as each other? Tia could’ve easily broken this argument up, but instead, she made River feel uneasy about something. He’s always so ignorant and oblivious –it’s strange to see him genuinely hesitating about something.
“I got accepted in Perisha College,” he says quietly, referring to the best high school in Brisbane. It’s a boarding school and private, but I guess that’s why it makes it so good. Only the best can attend. “Even though there’s only about two years left of school. It’ll help me get into a good university.” “Good on you,” I say, anger still obvious in my tone. “Send me a postcard.” “But I didn’t want to go.” He’s angry. Oh no, no, no. Angry is an understatement. He’s fuming; outraged. “I wanted to stay. I wanted you to be my girlfriend. But I guess you truly are too good for me, aren’t you, Jane?” If I weren’t a girl, who knows what he could’ve done to me right now. After all, didn’t he kill his own brother– What are you even saying? A voice cries out in horror. You know perfectly well it was an accident! But was it? Can I trust him in any kind of way anymore? All of a sudden, I have no idea what we were arguing about in first place. It must be some completely ridiculous thing– Hold on. What did he just say? “I wanted to stay. I wanted you to be my girlfriend…” Girlfriend? What is that implying? That he likes me more than a friend? Of course, Brainless! A girl friend is way above the status of a normal friend. He likes me more than a friend. And here I am, pushing him away. I’m about to open my mouth, to explain how much I admire him and how I’m sorry, but he’s already out of my sight. I’ve really done it this time. * Apologise to him. Tell him you’re sorry. Just do it. Somehow, I can’t bring myself to apologise to him. He’s the reason my mum came here. Mum. I scan the crowd, finding her standing there with a smile on her face. Instantly, I feel shocked, because this is not one of her horribly fake smiles. It’s completely real. “Jane.” She walks up to me, hugging me. “I love you. You were never a mistake; I love you.” What has River done to her? What brainwashing technique was used in this instance? Only in my wildest dreams would I ever hear her say that. But I’m going to savour the moment, even if it turns out to be a dream. “That boy –River– talked some sense into me. I can’t begin to describe how sorry I am about how awfully I’ve treated you.” I hear a sob coming from her chest. “Jane…” Awkwardly, I pat her on the back. “It’s okay, Mum. Look– I’ve gotta find River.”
“Oh! But before you go, I’d like you to meet your uncle.” She fetches a man from the crowd, grabbing his arm and thrusting him forward. There is cream stuck around his mouth from the cake, as he looks down with embarrassment. “We share a horrid history, don’t we, Ehsan?” He grins at me. “Sure do. Back in high school, you know how your mother always played tennis?” Of course I do. She has a million trophies in her room. “I was the umpire for one of the matches, even though I was so young. She was versing my brother, so obviously, I wanted Asif to win.” Sheepishly, he smiles at Mum. “I really was being unfair on how I got you out.” “I had a bit of a temper back then,” she says, laughing. “I hit him in the head with my tennis rackets. We were mortal enemies from then on.” My eyes scan from my mother to Ehsan and back. They’re so alike. Just like my father and used to be with Mum, but now… There’s something which Ehsan and Mum share which my father never did. Could it be enough for them to fall in love? Who knows? Secretly, the idea of them marrying creeps me out. My uncle suddenly becoming my father? But I guess it could've been worse, seeing as how I could've been close to my uncle. It's like having my mother remarry any stranger, seeing as how I don't know Ehsan -at all. Nobody will fully understand my twisted logic about my Mum's love-life. Because right now, the only person I need to talk to is River. As I’m about to walk towards the other end, Avril stops me. “River went home. Did you guys have a fight or something? Anyway. He said something about a train leaving three days from now.” She shrugs. “I have no idea what that’s about.” But I do.
My hands wrap tightly around River’s doll –the tiny figure which resembles him so much. “What are you doing, River?” I whisper to the doll before violently shaking it; hoping the jolt travels all the way to the human version. “One argument. Is that all it took for you to leave? Do you really like me or is it all a lie?” “Well, here’s something you don’t see every day.” Noah, Avril’s brother slips in the bench opposite me, a cappuccino in one hand. “Little Miss. Perfect talking to a doll.” I surprise myself by feeling exasperated. Before River entered my life, I would've just took it as a compliment and thought I'd have to live to my name. “I’m not–” “Don’t worry, Jane.” He winks at me. “I’ve read your mum’s book.” A slight frown creases his forehead. “In a town so small, I’m sure everybody has. Aren’t you mad at her?” “Not really. I kind of always saw it coming.” Here I am, sitting in the café I always attend with a River-doll in one hand and talking to Avril’s brother. How can this day get any more normal? Noah and I have always had light conversations where he would tease me, but nothing personal. We both know each other merely by name and face –heck, I don’t even know what his favourite colour is. Looking down at the River doll, I try to think of a solution –any conclusion– which will end this conflict once and for all. I want to apologise to him, yet… At the same time, I feel as if he doesn’t deserve it. No, he definitely doesn’t deserve any apologies out of my mouth. He’s just some completely spoilt boy who expects everything to go his way. I’m tempted to get some pins and stick them into this handy little voodoo doll. Internally, I can’t help wondering if my version of the doll has pins stuck into them right now. I wouldn’t blame him… after all, isn’t he moving because of me? In all honesty, I was the only reason he would stay here. He likes me that much? But what’s there to like about me? I’m deceiving, cunning, perfectionist and stubborn. However, there are a million flaws I can match up with River, and yet, I still find myself falling for him. Maybe it’s best I don’t see him again.
After all, it’s just two years. He’ll have to come back to me, right? What’s worse, I don’t have his email address or anything. His postal address? I didn’t have time to ask him about what train he was catching, let alone where he was living. But since this is a boarding school, he wouldn’t need a postal address. What if he meets another girl? The thought just makes my stomach spin around. I can’t stand the thought of another girl flirting with him and him actually acknowledging them. Maybe he’ll find a girl who’s pretty, smart and innocent. Perhaps that girl doesn’t deceive people with their aura. No matter how much I like him, I want him to be happy. It will hurt me –a lot– to see him with someone else. However, it’d be for the best. We could be friends forever. But I’ll always be second choice. Next to a wife or girlfriend, I’ll always be second priority. He’ll cancel out of me to spend time with this mystery girl. Why am I thinking so far ahead? With River’s bi-polar, confused and easily-distracted attitude, it’s weird that even I have fallen for him. There are boys out there who’re better than him, and yet… I want him. Full-stop. Nobody else in the whole world matters as much –when it comes to boys– as him right now. Maybe this is what love feels like. It doesn’t matter about their flaws, but their strengths that a lovesick person looks at. And River has a lot of them. Even though I probably will never understand him, I’ll always pretend I do. That I know exactly how he felt when he took those suicidal attempts. But in reality, I’ll never understand him. Just like I don’t comprehend what started this ridiculous argument. When I zone out of my thoughts, I’m aware of a small laptop in front of Noah. There is a sound of something familiar, but I can’t reminisce exactly what the sound is of. “Hey, Noah, what’re you watching?” He blushes. “You know how Avril doesn’t let me watch those DVDs of people making out at home? Yeah, well… err… I kind of have to watch them here.” Not once does he look up from the screen, which obviously means one of two things: either he’s deeply engrossed in the visual art or he’s too embarrassed to look up at me, the latter being the more possible option. “Don’t tell Avril, okay?” “Sure. Whatever.”
My thoughts drift back to River. Today is the day he’s leaving. At three-o’clock, and here I am, the clock reading one-forty-five. I truly am hopeless. Seriously, it’s humiliating to think I can’t even apologise to a boy. Has the fact I might actually be perfect stuck in my mind? Maybe my unconscious self thinks I’m too good for him, and that he should’ve associate himself with me anymore. Right now, I’m ready to pull my hair out in frustration. All of a sudden, I’m reminded of what he said to my mother the other day. What did he say –something so touching– that she came to watch me? There must be a secret sentence he used. Something which would help me understand him a little better. All of a sudden, I’m directed back to the night of the production. Right after Avril told me how River was going to the school three days from then. “You’re really lucky, you know that, Jane?” “What? Why?” “You have a guy who’ll do anything to try and get your attention. He must really like you.” I elbow her in the ribs. We’re both sitting on cold, metal bars. People are too jolly inside and the noise is loud enough to make my eardrums burst. Avril offered to sit beside me, being the awesome best-friend she is. She raises a glass of alcohol to her lips. This actually makes me shudder, because I can’t help thinking of the last time I drank alcohol and needed River to save me. It was also the first time we… Letting the disturbing thought trail off, I frantically search for a subject to talk about. “You have Sebastian, though.” She wrinkles her nose. “Yeah. But Seb’s the kind of person who forgets to treat me as a girlfriend.” She makes a face. “Just the other day, he was calling me brainless like he always did when we were ‘just friends.’ It’s really hard for him to see me as a girlfriend.” “I don’t blame him. He’s used to you being his partner-in-crime when writing songs; nothing else.” Laughing, she nudges me. “You make it sound like our songs are dreadful!” “Bingo.”
Though excess parts of the memory flashes into my mind, the only part which really matters is the first half. How she said River would do anything for me. I think of the pregnancy sheet lying lifelessly on my bedroom floor –I didn’t even get to use it. To be completely honest, I don’t think I’ll ever need it. The minute I go home, I’m going to dispose of it, and hopefully, Mum wouldn’t have seen the fake results already. But he truly does everything for me. I’m taking his kindness for granted; because no matter how much I deny it, if it wasn’t for him, I’d be stuck in complete isolation. He’s the only one who noticed something wrong with me while everybody bought the smile on my face. He understands me like no-one else can. And, just for that, I’m falling for him. At the same time, I want him to never leave. To stay with me forever and marry me –seriously, how far ahead am I thinking? Anyway, marriage is something both of us have to agree to: even if I’m in love with him, if he doesn’t feel the same way, there’s isn’t much point in wanting to marry him. Why are you thinking of marriage? Focus on the present situation! Right. I need to know exactly what he said to my mum. “Noah, how ‘bout I make you a deal?” I say, my voice innocent. “I won’t tell Avril you’re watching videos if you give me the tape up there.” I point to the security cameras directly above us. There are a lot of them, one above each table. One of them would’ve caught what they were discussing. Last time I checked, the manager of the café told me that the cameras record sound, too. But we’re not allowed to listen into private conversations unless there was a valid reason. And my reason is valid enough. “Please, Noah?” “Fine,” he says, grinning. “That’s easy. I thought you’d tell me to do five push-ups or something.” “I can always make you–” “Forget I said anything!” he yells out before I can finish my sentence. Then he sneakily walks back into the shop. For a second, I’m about to yell at him. What about my tapes? But he comes back soon enough, his index finger raised to his lips. “Shhh. I needed to make sure the manager wasn’t on the prowl or anything.” Then, right before my eyes, he climbs on each of the tables and gathers the tapes. Finally, he hands me all the tapes, wiping away imaginary sweat from his perspiring forehead. “Phew. That was close.” “Thanks, Noah!”
“Remember, I didn’t give them to you.” He ruffles my hair. “Have fun with them, Kiddo. Using them for more of your blackmailing schemes?” “Quite the opposite. Peacemaking, if you’d believe me.” “I don’t believe you.” “Didn’t think you would,” is the last thing out of my mouth before I leave the building. * The tapes are inside the DVD player. Honestly, I have no idea why I’m still calling them tapes inside my head; they’re DVDs. Complete with picture and audio. Searching through all of them in the comfort of my messy bedroom, I fast-forward through each of them. Feeling exhausted after the tenth tape I put away, I stand up and search under the bed for that fake-pregnancy picture. Without another word, I tear it into pieces and put it straight in the bin. Thinking of one person only: River Mullaney. Ugh. Get out of my head! Finally, I come across a tape with River in a white shirt and Mum on the other side. They’re both huddled closely, and yet, both of their voices are loud enough for the camera to record. My mouth forms into a smirk. I’ll now know what devious technique River Mullaney used to make my mother fall for his traps. Maybe he told her she was beautiful, and that it would be the perfect addition to the production hall. Or something completely cheesy and off-topic –which is very much like him. “You see, Mrs. Everett, I have some concerns about your daughter.” He presses the fingertips of both of his hands, his face grim. Something only actors can pull off. “I don’t think you realise how much you’re hurting her.” “But I never laid a finger–!” “Not that kind of hurt, Mrs. Everett. Diane, if I may? You’re hurting her more than you realise. What’s this I hear about you calling her a mistake?” She instantly looks uncomfortable. “How do you–”
“My sources will remain anonymous.” His voice drops, but loud enough for the camera to still catch it. “It’s like seeing a reflection of him, isn’t it?” Mum’s whole body tenses, but she doesn’t dare to say a word. “That’s why you see her as a mistake; because she looks exactly like him. And she appears so flawless like him, like she has no faults.” “Yes,” she whispers, blinking. “That’s correct.” “But do you recognise how Jane is nothing like her father? She loves you, Diane. And you…” He appears disgusted, not even bothering to hide his true emotions from his voice, either. “…you call her a mistake. Every year she waits for her father to come back and watch the production. Only because she knows you won’t.” “But she wants her father and no-one else! I can’t do anything about it–” “The way I see it, she acts like she needs her father and no-one else. When in reality, she’s waiting for you. You, Diane, you.” Something snaps within her head. Even from here, I can see the wide variety of emotions crossing her face. Confusion, realisation, guilt. “What do I do, River?” “Go to the production. See how her face lights up. Don’t underestimate her.” I’m directed back to reality. How does River know about these emotions? I haven’t told River any of them, so… am I that predictable? Do I really have my thoughts written on my forehead with permanent marker? But even asking myself the question, I realise how happy I am. That somebody out there knows exactly how I feel without me having to explain themselves. The video still hasn’t finished on their part. “River, can I ask you why you’re doing so much for Jane? Especially when I, her very own mother, haven’t treated her with respect at all.”
“It’s because we stick up for each other, though we hardly realise it.” There’s not even the slightest hesitation in his voice. “Even though we have our share of disagreements, I still care about her. I’ll still be by her side.” A slight chuckle escapes his throat. “Though I doubt she feels the same way about me.” “You’ve thought about this a lot, haven’t you?” “Yeah. I knew there’d be a time I’ll have to explain our relationship with each other.” Those haunting words are so powerful. I doubt she feels the same way about me. He doesn’t have much fate in me, does he? He tells my mother to never underestimate me, but right now, he’s doing exactly what he told her not to. Quite obviously, he’s waiting for a train right now. River isn’t thinking about me at all, because he knows I won’t show up. I gather my coat before pulling it on in a rush, racing out the front door and running to the fastest of my ability. It’s warm, since it’s summer, but I keep running. Halfway through I’m aware of how wearing thongs at a situation like this was the worst idea possible. So I take them off and run. For the next few minutes, I sprint to the best of my ability. What if I’m too late? No. I simply refuse to think any negative thoughts at this point in time. Though he might not realise it, River Mullaney needs me. I’ll stay by your side, River.
I see the perfect costume on display at the window. It’s fully black with a black hair and a net which would cover my face. Maybe River would talk to me if he’s taken by surprise. I’ll arrive at the train station appearing like a stranger, and just when he thinks I’m not Jane, bingo! –I’m actually Jane. It sounds like such a stupid idea, but there’s a feeling swirling around my stomach. Completely uneasy. I’m afraid he might ignore me completely –that I wouldn’t be able to tell him to stay. To not go to that school –remain bonded with me forever. But is it possible? Am I too late? Entering the small store, there is a ding the minute I step in. There’s some sort of connection between the welcome carpet and a doorbell-like system. A middle-aged lady with surprisingly-wrinkled skin serves me, tilting her glasses down her nose to get a better view. “Hello there,” she says in a warm voice. “Do you need anything?” “Could I have that costume at the window?” She nods, and within a few seconds, I’m out of the store –fully dressed in it. The changing rooms in that shop were big enough to sleep in, and the mirror was just the perfect size to show myself nobody can see who I am. Feeling rather pompous at my fantastic disguise, I can’t help sniggering as I think of River’s face after he realises it’s me. On a more serious note, I wonder if he’ll forgive me. But it’s not like I need him or anything. I’ll just be happier if he stays –that’s all. Back then, when he brought Mum into the production, I thought he was the one. That he could be the only one for me; nobody else. Heck, I even though Tia was right. Maybe I truly am developing some sort of mental disease. To be on the safe side, I should make an appointment with one of the doctors. All of a sudden, I can’t help Elise’s face flashing into my mind. She probably has no idea her brother is leaving; that she won’t be seeing him for so long. It’s instant happiness for her if River stays with her for the last two years of his high-school life. That’s exactly when I decide I’m going to do everything in my power to make him stay. Let him stay. Make him realise he’s not going to be “at home” anywhere else but here. I need to do it for Elise.
Finally, I arrive at the station, puffing at how far I’ve run. Thank God, I’m wearing sneakers. My favourite ones, too –the ones with sparkly lotuses stuck around the front of it. When I glance towards the dirty-looking bench, I see River. But not only him; there is everybody from the play production. And of course, his family is there too. Who was I kidding? Of course everybody else has grown to like him as well –that they’re going to miss him, even it’s only for two years more. I take a step towards him. Don’t be scared, Jane. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Feeling rather uplifted, I take another. C’mon, you know he’s not going to be mad. You’re just another stranger, remember? Hesitating while moving towards him is an obvious clue towards your true identity. Listening to my inner-conscious, I strut proudly towards him. “Hello. I’m Fiona. May I take a seat next to you?” He inspects me high and low. “Sorry. This seat is reserved for Jane Everett.” Feigning a yawn, he fails to stifle a laugh. “But since you’re a stranger, I’m sure you don’t know who she is.” I give up. He’s too observant. “Okay, Mr. Nothing-Can-Ever-Trick-Me. How’d you work it out?” He points to my feet. “Shoes. Dead giveaway.” With a smile, he gives everybody a special look. Something which I don’t quite understand. “Jane, we’re going to buy some pretzels, okay?” Avril yells, already halfway to the shop. “See ya!” I watch helplessly as everybody else follows her, along with River’s family and a waddling Elise. “Does it really take so many people to buy one packet of pretzels?” I mutter under my breath. “You wanted to talk to me alone. Right?” “You catch on quick.” He exhales loudly. “Look, Jane, I’m really sorry.” “Hey, I’m the one who’s supposed to say it.”
“Nope. It’s my turn.” “No, it’s mine!” We both glare at each other for a few seconds before bursting out into laughter. There’s something strange about this scene, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. We’ve both forgiven each other. Although it’s not said aloud, we both know the other is forgiven. That this is a worthless argument and that it shouldn’t tear up apart. But why is he still leaving? If he has some common-sense –at all– wouldn’t he stay with me? For Elise and his parents, who’re constantly fighting. Who else would be able to give Mr. Mullaney death-glares when he flirts endlessly with my mum? Besides me, of course, but I’d have to give them to my mum. Who probably wouldn’t care anyway. Now she has Ehsan. I’m sure there’s love blooming between the two of them –I’d be extremely happy if River’s father becomes a figment of the past. It’d be extremely awkward to have him as a step-brother, especially since he’d already have a mother. Somebody who gave birth to him. “Don’t think I’m leaving because of you, Jane.” He looks at me with softened eyes, looking close to pleading. “One stupid argument isn’t enough to make up my mind for good. I’ve been thinking about it lately, and the only reason I got into that school is because the principal is Dad’s childhood friend.” He sticks two fingers down his throat. “I’m sure bribery is the case we’re talking here, but anyhow. It’s a great opportunity –one which I would never have if fate hadn’t decided it for me. God wants this for me.” “You think you’ll be able to do well in that high-school?” I say quietly. “I know I will.” There is a slight pause. “Then, don’t let me stop you.” Let me stop you! “Go.” Stay! Why’re you letting him leave? I’m not going to be selfish. What about Elise? It’s only two years. She’ll get over it. Mr. Mullaney flirting with your mum? Mum has Ehsan. And now, she’s going to be much closer to me than ever before. She’s going to tell me –warn me– before she declares a new boyfriend or father. It’s all thanks to River. I don’t necessary need him in my life. It’s just like what my fifth-grade Christian teacher taught us: God gives different people to someone. Some of them are there for a reason, there for the rest of eternity. Then there are others to make a difference in your life –an impact. River being the latter option.
It’d be beyond shallow to make it difficult for him to stay. “You don’t want me to explain myself?” “Do you want to?” “Not really.” “Then don’t. I wasn’t expecting one in first place.” I smile. “I’d like to think I understand you, even though I probably don’t.” “You do,” he says to my complete surprise. “More than anyone else. You’re always by my side. That’s why I love you.” For a second, I’m not sure whether to be shocked or completely scared out of my wit. River senses my tension and pulls me into a hug before I can make a decision. This action is to show me there isn’t a certain way to react –that I should let those words slip by like it’s no big deal. Oh, but it’s a big deal alright! How can he expect me to let go of the first time a boy my age has ever said those three words to me? The strangest part is, he’s not throwing them around. He’s giving me reasons –excuses– towards why. But for once, I let nothing affect me and hug him back. It’s the least I can do after acting so hatefully towards him. It’s actually surprising how he still manages to stay by my side after the way I’ve treated him. At first, when he bit my hand, I thought he was the most repulsive boy in the whole entire world. I thought I would never have to face him again, and was extremely irritated about spending the entire production with him being my hero. Now, I’m starting to think he’s one the best things that ever happened to me. If it wasn’t for him, I would’ve never learnt there are such things as double-skateboards, where two people can ride at the same time without crashing. Nor would I realise insomnia is a really common scenario, and that a lot of people have them. Right now, as I piece the puzzles back together, I never knew why he had insomnia in first place. I’m just about to ask when the answer snaps in my mind. “You have insomnia because of your fighting parents, right?”
He’s shocked by the change of subject, but still doesn’t let go off me. I continue to clutch at his t-shirt like it’s a matter of life-and-death. “Yeah. Whenever I was awake, they wouldn’t argue. Pretended to love each other to pieces. Then, when they thought I fell asleep, they’d drone on and on.” He chuckles. I feel it against his warm body. “So I never fell asleep. Mum said it was bad for my health, but I didn’t listen to her. I was a true-born rebel.” It’s my turn to laugh. “That’s right –River Mullaney, the boy who ran with safety scissors. Die-hard rebel.” Peering down at me, he pokes at my nose. “You sound make me sound like I’m perfect.” “Bingo,” I whisper, looking down so he can’t see my scarlet face. As if on cue, the group of people comes back –better known as my “friends.” But judging by how they’re walking, I prefer not to admit any relation to them in public. It’s like seeing multiples of Elise, and knowing all of them for so long, it’s not hard to imagine one of them falling on the train lines and getting run over. “River? Want some pretzels?” Michael calls, giggling like a deluded person. “Yeah, River. You too, Jane. Want some pretzels?” Avril yells, laughing like a kookaburra. Even a blind person can see how the two are trying to spoil the moment. I personally don’t understand why they find it so necessary to break us apart. Maybe it’s something in the pretzels… I glance up at River. “Why do you have the worst taste in friends?” “Hey, I’m just the innocent new-boy. You’re the one who’s been hanging around with those freaks for centuries, not me.” “You make me sound like I’m perfect,” I tease, though his previous line implied completely the opposite of perfection. “Bingo,” he whispers. He’s leaning down towards me, a serious expression on his face. Oh no. He’s going to kiss me. Why? Why now? Why– “Did you know pretzels are good for kissing?” Diana and Hazel yell out at the same time, as if they’ve planned it. Which is probably quite accurate.
We break away like repelling magnets, our faces going a bright shade of scarlet. I can see River grit his teeth, as if ready to punch our so-called friends. But with this situation, I’m quite ready to do damage to their faces as well. “Note to self: Never again come to a train station which sells pretzels,” he mutters under his breath, causing me to grin. “Bye, Jane,” he says, kissing me quickly on the cheek and picking up his bags. The sound of a train zooming past awakens me, as disappointment seizes through my veins. He’s leaving. Only two years –I’ll be able to handle it. Maybe it’ll be really lonely, but– Before I know it, he’s already walking away. Slowly and with my heart racing, I count every step until he finally enters the train, not looking back on purpose. Perhaps he’d be tempted to stay. All of a sudden, Sebastian approaches us, his eyes catching something from behind his round spectacles. “He forgot this,” he murmurs, picking up the necklace I saw him wearing. The cross with gems all through it. It must’ve slipped off his neck or something. “Wait here!” He races after the train with the necklace clutched in his hand, but anybody could see it was no good. Even if he manages to find River through the enormous crowd, the doors will never open to let him inside. It’s impossible, even though I’m not a pessimist in any kind of way. River’s gone. He’s gone, Jane. Gone. I don’t know why I started crying right then. Two years isn’t long at all. But it’s long enough. Before I know it, more tears than my body contains starts flowing out in a matter of seconds. Lulu and Tia instinctively wrap their arms around me before death-glaring the other. “She’s my cousin,” says Tia simply. “Cousin doesn’t even go near a friend. Hey, aren’t you the one who tricked her into believing her father would come back?” This shuts Tia up instantly, as she says in her icy-cold voice, “Don’t you dare steal another of my friends away. You’ve already stolen Michael away from me; I hope you’re happy.” So this is what it’s about, I think wearily. Lulu snorts. “Aren’t you the one boasting about how quickly you got asked out? And how boys two years younger than you are so immature?”
“Both of you.” Avril gives them the look, as both of them cringe away. “She’s my best friend.” She holds onto me, and then I realised how Avril’s the only one I’ll listen to. “It’s not going to be okay, I’m not going to lie. But he’s going to come back. Just keep focusing on your studies for now. He’s still going to love you when he comes back.” He’s going to love me when he comes back. I hold onto Avril tighter than I ever have in my whole life. Sebastian jogs back from his mini-trip, but has enough common sense not to say anything. The words hang into the air like breathing on a cold day; how it creates a puff of warmth circulating the air. I hold onto those words forever.
Mum’s hanging out all the clothes on the washing line, humming an ancient song as she does so. One year has passed by so casually, I haven’t even noticed it. Things are back just the way they were –right before River came into my life. Now that I think about it, he wasn’t that much of an influence. Heck, before he entered my life I had never been more annoyed and repulsed by anyone –not as much as him. It’s just how lonely I feel late at nights, when I don’t have him to talk to. During the nights is when I think about him most, because once upon a time, there was a seat inside a café. A specific seat where two insomniacs would seat, facing opposite of each other, and discuss about many different subjects. Then one day, the boy went away to start a new life. A new chance for him to do something decent in the future, leaving the girl by herself. Ironically enough, I still haven’t forgotten about him at all; he’s always floating around my head, and only when I unconsciously think about anything, it directs it to him. Everything that I do reminds me of him. Sighing in exhaustion, Mum takes a seat next to me on the sofa, panting from her “hard” work. In our lifetime, I’m always the one who does the housework, though I always do a poor job of it. Now that she has truly realised I’m her responsibility, she’s offering to do it all for me. “You look deep in thought, Jane.” “Yeah. Just thinking.” A sly smile crosses her face. “About River?” She doesn’t pursue me further when I don’t reply. What am I supposed to say? She’s pretty much spot-on. “You might not think that, but he had a great influence on you.” I sit up at these words, a little more engaged and curious. “Influence?” “I could see it in the way you were acting in that production. You listened to me, didn’t you? About learning from him.” She chuckles. “Honestly, I couldn’t tell either of your actions apart; they were absolutely identical! In the right places, of course. I remember seeing River smirk in a certain way, and when it was your turn, your expression was absolutely identical.” This piece of information makes my stomach do a flip. Something snaps inside me, as I bury my face in my hands. “Great. Now I’m even acting like him!”
“You make it sound like a bad thing.” Pulling my face up, I look at her face. “Of course it is. It’s going to be another whole year before I see him again.” She shrugs, obviously not understanding my pain at all. “So? Six months have passed so quickly. Just think that a quarter of the time has passed.” This makes me feel ready to throw things at her; maybe even throw a fit. Really, what I need is to relax with my friends. Maybe even never seeing his face will make a good impression for the rest of my life. Why am I waiting for him to come back to me? I should be out, doing something in the production. In the showbiz industry and making myself famous. I have enough confidence to think I’ll be able to get into any famous school in the world. But not without River. Somehow, I need him by my side whenever I’m getting myself into something. He’s all I need to take on the world. For such a long time, I’ve been taking his kindness and friendliness for granted. Not until he disappeared out of my life did I realise how much I genuinely need him. “Diane,” whines Ehsan’s voice as he approaches us. “Where did you put the liquid detergent?” “Over near the sink, beside the basket of pegs containing exactly fifty-seven. But if you had been paying attention three weeks ago, when I showed you, you would know.” Absentmindedly, he scratches his black hair before turning to me. “How do you stand her? When we got married, I didn’t know she was such a control-freak! Jane, what about a decent warning next time?” I shrug. “Sorry, Pal, but–” “Not on your life, Pal.” I pause. “How’s that?” “Absolutely terrible. Have you ever heard a non-American use the word ‘pal’ in their vocabulary?’ My heart tenses up, mainly because I know they are the exact words. Back when I first met River, whatever he and I exchanged in our conversations weren’t very important at all. But it pretty much carries the same idea: I used the word “pal” to try out a new accent; he burst my bubble by smugly declaring Australians are forbidden to use that word. Right now, I’d do anything to see his face. …So long as it’s not a smug one.
What am I doing thinking about him so much? I think with a jolt. That’s it. I’m going over to the café. Sebastian, Avril, Lulu and their new group-member, Michael, should be there. My eyes scan over a hairbrush on my dressing table, a small smile brought onto my face. Messy Tia –she left her hairbrush behind. When I think about it logically, if it weren’t for my mind revenging against River and his stolen kiss, Tia would be in stitches right now. Not that I’d be the one to put in the hospital bed –Avril’s strong enough for that, and Lulu’s paranoid self would easily be able to convince Tia how “ugly” her stitches are. But all the same, Tia’s life –and beauty, oh for the love of Pete, I’m sure beauty matters more than life itself to her– would be destroyed if River hadn’t kissed me like he had. Because of him in the way, I pretty much ignored Tia. Which is quite sad, because I didn’t get revenge on either of them. Dressing up in my jeans and a loose t-shirt, I head towards the café once more. My hair is falling right past my shoulders. When I enter the café, I hear all six of them sitting at a table, chattering and laughing about something. These days, all they ever do during the Christmas holidays are chat and hang around the table in the café –sometimes gathering a milkshake. “Jane!” Michael shouts, waving me over. Everybody stops talking at once, as if a bomb has just exploded. Silence. Pure, deathly silence breeches my ears. “How’re you?” “I’m good.” Why is everyone so quiet? Oh, I get it. They’re talking about how much weight I gained during the school holidays. But no need to worry –as soon as winter’s the season and hockey isn’t cancelled, I’ll be back in shape in no time. I frown. Why’re they still not talking? A little bit of my gained weight isn’t enough– “We were talking about River,” Lulu says, tightening her hand around her strawberry milkshake and not looking up at my face. “I’m sorry, Jane. We know you must miss–” I snort, waving my hand about like it’s no big deal. “Puh-lease. I’ve stopped missing him ages ago,” I lie. “One more year. Not much longer.” Avril and Sebastian exchange a nifty look, while I feel my stomach do flips in my stomach. What was I supposed to say? Even though it’s a complete lie, I want to assure them. That what they’re doing is completely normal –who am I to stop their conversation? But why are they smiling… “Six days until Christmas!” Sebastian speaks up, punching the air. “Can’t wait.”
I death-glare him. “Don’t you dare change the subject. What did I miss?” “Fine. Let’s work this out in a truth-or-dare game.” Avril is the one who says this, unsurprisingly. Of course she’s up for anything –so long it’s reckless and a dare. “Jane. Truth or dare? If you accomplish it, we’re telling you what you’re missing. Deal?” “Deal. Hit me with all you’ve got.” “I don’t really think you want Avril to hit you, Jane,” Michael says in a genuinely worried tone. “She’s actually quite strong–” “Michael?” Lulu cuts in in her sickishly-sweet voice. “Yeah?” “Shut up.” Pouting slightly, he folds his arms and slouches. “I hate you, Lulu.” A massive grin –one bigger than Sebastian’s ego– appears on Michaels face as he takes a bite of his burger and springs forward, chewing openly. Lulu blocks her eyes, but even behind her hands we can sense her terror. “Get away from me, you creep!” “No-no-no! Michael isn’t going to listen to no-one.” His voice is on the verge of hysteria as he points one of his fingers straight at Lulu’s nose. “Especially to someone with last season’s clothes!” As expected, Lulu stifles a gasp. She’s probably cursing him to hell this very second. When I turn to Avril and Sebastian, they’re both raising an eyebrow, a weary smile situated on their faces. Slowly, as if waiting for it all to be over, Avril raises her glass and slurps loudly. “I don’t know what’s scarier: the fact those two fight like a married couple, despite being ‘just friends,’ or how Michael knows what last season’s clothes are.” Sebastian lets another sigh escape his mouth, resting his head on the palm of his hand. Sneakily –but not too stealthily– he yawns as he stretches out his fingers and puts his arm around Avril. Unable to accept cliché ways of affection, she bites Sebastian’s arm. Wincing away, he –probably– makes a mental note of something else to never do.
Something clicks inside me. River did that to my arm the very first time I saw him face-to-face. Back at the bookstore. I was so young back then. Now, at seventeen years old, I don’t feel any older. Nor do I act any more mature than when I was three. And yet, I could see the contrast. This time last year, I had everything going to my head. A completely preppy girl who believed she was perfect by all the compliments she received. That girl had a mother who didn’t care about her. I have two loving parents –the man not much different from my actual father, in the way he acts and the way he treats children– who are willing to sacrifice so much for me. All thanks to River. If he hadn’t convinced my mother to come to that performance, she would’ve never met up with Ehsan –therefore, everything would be different. Now that I think about it, we’d probably still be strangers living in the same house. One year ago, there was a girl who thought she was pompous. That she could never love anybody, and how she would never let a boy kiss her. I have let River kiss me once, and even caught him by surprise in front of a major audience by doing it. What’s worse, I might –just– be in love with him. Or it’s just a very strong form of the word “like.” It’s weird to think that, one year ago, that girl thought she needed all the attention in the world. She was even jealous of somebody else –River Mullaney– stealing her spotlight. But now, I’ve realised I don’t need the spotlight on me. God can see me quite clearly without needing any help of light. Needless to say, the creator themselves would be able to pick me up and save me when things get tough. My hands instinctively touch the necklace around my neck – his necklace; the one with the gemstones all over. God loves me. Whatever is done is for the best. I just need to believe it. Now, seeing Lulu throw another squirt of milk straight into Michael’s eye gives me some sort of strange feeling. Like I’ve seen it before. No matter how many times he’s going to say, “I hate you” to Lulu, it’ll end with him loving her than anybody else. Once upon a time, that was River and me. Though –well, I don’t really recall– he never said the three words to me, it was implied by how he’d always make me feel dumb –do wacky acts just to lose the trail to predicting him. “Lulu, Michael,” I say in a calm voice. They both drop their food –weapons– and turn to me with curious looks. “You two should go out.” There’s a short pause as I see Lulu going scarlet in the face. Michael’s ears turn unnaturally pink as well. Avril and Sebastian sit up from their slouching position, stunned at how easily it was to break them apart.
“Jane.” Avril looks dumbfounded. “You’re a legend. Just for shutting those two up, I’ll tell you what you missed.” “Yeah?” “River’s coming to visit this Christmas!” I almost choke on my own spit.
Six days later… Worried, my eyes dart at the door for the fiftieth time in the same ten minutes. As I look down at my dress –the one I wore at the play– I can’t help feeling awfully dumb. River doesn’t even know he’s supposed to be waiting for me; I haven’t kept in contact with him at all. We didn’t exchange numbers or anything, because we mutually understand the idea of long-distance-relationships. So long as we can’t talk to each other face-to-face, there’s no point keeping contact at all. Christmas day is a wonderful day to spend at the café –hardly anybody else is here. They’re all busy at home, sitting with their own family and possibly drinking glasses of eggnog. Not like me, whose parents are visiting The World’s Largest Rubber-Band Ball in Brisbane –two hours away from here, and insisted on me coming. I sigh in relief. If it wasn’t for River as an excuse to stay, I would’ve been dragged along. Just when I least expect it, a figure walks into the room. My eyes grow wide. A boy with blue eyes and black hair which always falls on his face –occasionally covering his eyes. I’m surprised by another figure entering behind him –a girl with light curls enters the room, the flawlessness of her face shocking me. “Jane!” He runs up to me, and before I know it, I feel his arms around me. Laughing, he kisses me on the cheek lightly. “You’re still the same, aren’t you?” He didn’t kiss me on the lips. Does that mean… My heart sinks like the Titanic. Of course. I never agreed to be his girlfriend; just like he never directly asked. This girl standing behind him –she’s the true girlfriend. I’m just another friend through his eyes. Of course he’d get tired of chasing me for so long. Somehow, he notices my unexcited feelings, and pulls away with a frown creasing at his forehead. He hasn’t changed a bit. “D-do you want to introduce her to me?” “Michelle, this is Jane.” She walks up to me like we’re childhood friends, grabbing both of my hands and shaking them madly. “Jane? Simply marvellous!”
Curse the demon lord for this. She’s innocent, pretty and charming. As I fake a smile towards her warm –if not extreme– greeting, I realise how kind-hearted and sweet she is. Easily enough, she’s perfect for River. Right now, no matter what happens, I’m going to realise God is on my side. If God chooses not to let me be with River, then maybe it’s because somebody better will enter my life –though I highly doubt it. Through my eyes, his face is the only thing I can see when speaking terms of “love.” When somebody asks the psychological question, “Do you love him?” I see his face. Always and forever his face. “You know what?” Michelle says in her perfect, girlish voice. “I’m going to catch a taxi. I heard there’s a twenty-four-hour nail-salon around here.” She blows me a kiss before disappearing out the door. But this Michelle. She is… perfect. River has told me once before about how he thinks I’m perfect, but she’s the real thing. Heck, she has even got the same eyes. The exact same shape and colour… Hang on. Why does she have the exact same shape and colour? As if reading my mind, he chuckles before hugging me again. But only to whisper, “You do realise she’s my cousin, right?” “Of course. I recognised a lie the minute it came out of your mouth. I just liked seeing you think I actually believe you.” I pause, not trying to hide the disgust from my voice. “How many cousins do you have?” “About fifteen. She’s from my dad’s side; my dad’s younger sister’s daughter. We just happened to be going the same way –she lives in Brisbane– and she asked where I was going. So yeah.” “I feel like we’ve gone through this…” “De`ja’vu, huh, Jane?” He holds me closer, the warmth of his light jumper calming me. “We’re exceptional, don’t you think?” I say all of a sudden. “A whole year apart without hearing each other’s voice nor having any contact with the other. And yet…” “Yet…” Neither of us finish the sentence. Some things are better incomplete. We don’t need to tell each other we love one another –they’re not words one throws around for no reason. River understands this than most other boys, which is something else we share in personality traits. Something we both understand without any explanation. Which is why we’re perfect for each other.
Everything is just the same. My hands free the necklace from my neck. He’s the one who’s going back to the boarding school in a couple of days. God’s good luck needs to shine on him than anybody else. River looks down at the necklace, appearing hugely surprised. “Good luck at school,” I whisper, putting the necklace around him. This time when he’s going, I’m not going to break down in any kind of way. I’m going to enjoy the rest of my high-school life before getting into the same university as him –my grades are fairly high; I have a choice of almost every university possible. I’ll stay by his side forever. “God bless you.” But this time, it’s different.
Thank you for taking the time to read my book. You may also contact me at my blog: http://justremy.blogspot.com