Invisible. That would be the one word to sum up the life of Kaley Thorne. No matter what she did, no matter who she spoke to, no matter what she achieved, she would always be invisible.
She was like a ghost that roamed the corridors of her life, never being seen or heard. Nobody ever remembered her and nobody ever actually cared about her. She didnâ€™t exist.
|Love Songs Series: Secret Songbook By Jamie Campbell|
Of course, Kaley Thorne wasnâ€™t actually invisible, it just felt that way. She was, in actual fact, a living and breathing sixteen year old. She had ten fingers, ten toes, a nose and everything else you would expect to find on a female human.
She had long dark hair, blue eyes, glasses, and was average height. She also had a small freckle on her left cheek that often looked like a dab of chocolate.
There was just something about her that made people not notice her. They would even bump into her and not apologize, like she was a pesky wall that had jumped out at them.
Kaley was tired of it. She wanted to be seen and she wanted people to take notice. And she made that decision while standing in the middle of the school cafeteria at 12:43 p.m.
Summoning all her courage, Kaley put one foot in front of the other and moved toward the table. She stood on the seat and waited for people to notice. They didnâ€™t. She took a deep breath.
â€œI am Kaley Thorne and I am here,â€ she yelled at all her fellow students. The cafeteria was packed full of people, talking and laughing amongst themselves. They didnâ€™t even flinch at the sudden yelling from the invisible girl.
Not one person looked at her.
Deflated, Kaley got down and plunked onto the seat. She pulled her lunch closer and started eating. She had tried. She was always trying. It just never worked. Maybe someday people would see her, today obviously wasnâ€™t that day. Perhaps it would be tomorrow.
â€œWere you just standing on the seat or was I imagining things?â€ Harper, also a sixteen year old with visibility issues, sat across the table. She was red headed with sparkling green eyes hidden beneath her bangs.
Harper was one of only two people that actually saw Kaley for who she was and she loved her to bits. They had been friends since they could remember, an unshakable bond that got them through high school. Neither would have survived very long without the other.
â€œOf course I wasnâ€™t just standing on the seat.â€ Kaley smiled with her secret. â€œMust have been someone else.â€
â€œRight,â€ she answered, her voice dripping with sarcasm. And pigs might fly too. â€œSo did you hear about Eli and Abigail?â€
Kaley shook her head. Eli and Abigail were the â€˜itâ€™ couple of their school. They had been together for ages â€“ about three months â€“ and they were always smooching up the corridors.
To make things worse, Eliâ€™s locker was right beside Kaleyâ€™s. Too many times to count she had tried to get books from her locker only to have Abigailâ€™s perfect body pressed against it. She would always keep walking, they wouldnâ€™t notice her when she politely asked them to move anyway.
â€œWhat about Eli and Abigail?â€
â€œThey broke up.â€
â€œReally? Finally I get my locker back.â€
â€œThey had a big fight this morning in the courtyard, everyone saw,â€ Harper said, nodding with a look of knowing on her face. â€œShe cried and everything.â€
â€œAbigail cried? I didnâ€™t know she had tear ducts.â€
â€œFull on sobbing.â€
Kaley was impressed the girl had real emotions. She didnâ€™t seem too concerned when she was berating her underlings. She had never in her life spoken a word to Kaley, she never even noticed her enough to berate her.
There were good sides to being invisible sometimes. It meant the mean girls didnâ€™t see you either.
â€œOh well.â€ Kaley shrugged. â€œI guess life will go on.â€
â€œI wonder who heâ€™ll move on to. Eli is a good catch. Heâ€™s on the football team, heâ€™s smart, and his parents are loaded. Heâ€™ll probably be snapped up in a second.â€
â€œNot if you want to live. Abigail will kill anyone who comes near him. She will still claim him as her territory.â€
â€œShe wonâ€™t have a valid claim, theyâ€™ve broken up.â€
â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter. Nobody will cross Abigail.â€
They both nodded in agreement, lamenting the fact Eli would always be off limits to any of the other girls in the school. It was a pity, but like Kaley said, life goes on. There were far more things to worry about in high school. Boys were only one of the distractions.
Harper stood. â€œIâ€™ve got to go to the library before the next class. You want to come with?â€
â€œSure, why not.â€
Kaley looked around, thinking nobody would miss her anyway. Every table held groups of chattering students, all happy and oblivious. It should have been difficult to feel isolated in a room full of people, but Kaley found it easy. If it wasnâ€™t for Harper, she may as well not even exist.
It was funny the type of kids that hung out in the library over a lunch break. If Kaley stood there long enough, she could identify three different types.
The first were the kind that didnâ€™t want to be seen there. They would hurry in, look around to make sure they didnâ€™t recognize anybody, grab what they needed, and check out just as fast. They were in and out in less than two minutes if they werenâ€™t caught in the act.
The second type were those that loved the library. They were the ones that volunteered to be student librarians and would spend every spare minute of the day there.
They were also the kind that jumped at their own shadows and couldnâ€™t make eye contact with others. Despite this, Kaley thought they had a certain attitude to them. Perhaps they were the rebellious ones, defying social conventions by being social outcasts.
Something to think about.
The third kind were the ones that were casual visitors. They needed something from the library but were quite content to take their time browsing. They didnâ€™t care who saw them there, they only cared about that elusive book they needed for some purpose or another.
That was Kaley and Harper. They wandered through the stacks looking for a book on medieval times. Either they were late and all the books had been checked out already, or the school was seriously underfunded and skipped the era entirely. Probably a combination of both.
â€œThereâ€™s nothing here,â€ Harper whined.
â€œYou could Google it. You know, like a normal person.â€
â€œI like books.â€
Kaley rolled her eyes and leaned against the shelf, conjuring some patience. She checked her phone â€“ no messages. She never got messages unless they were from her mom. Just once she would like to see notification of a million unread messages and missed calls.
The popular girls would always have messages, she lamented. Even her mom would have unread messages. The situation was starting to get dire. Surely people would start noticing her soon.
â€œAha! Here is it,â€ Harper said happily as she slid out a thick book on the medieval world.
â€œCan we go now?â€
â€œAfter I find a book on diseases. I want to look up my symptoms and see what Iâ€™ve got.â€
â€œGoogle it,â€ Kaley laughed. â€œThere is nothing wrong with you anyway. You really want to be diagnosed by a computer programmer?â€
â€œFine, letâ€™s go.â€
They checked out the book and stepped into the corridors. As they did, the bell rang right over their heads. They headed toward class in opposite directions.
Halfway to her next class, Kaley realized she didnâ€™t have the book she needed. It was safely resting in her locker, she had forgotten to get it with all the excitement of the library visit. She could have slapped herself.
Instead, she took a detour and changed directions. She couldnâ€™t sit through a whole hour of math without having the textbook. No doubt dodgy Mr. Spingle would have something to say about it.
Kaleyâ€™s locker combination was easy to remember â€“ 13, 3, 17. Thirteen for the number of times she had been left off the morning roll call, three for the number of teachers who asked who she was when she turned up at their class (at the end of the semester), and seventeen for the number of times her mother had asked her why she wasnâ€™t going to a school function. The numbers were slowly increasing.
She retrieved her math book and closed the locker again as quickly as possible. She didnâ€™t want to have to change the 3 for a 4 when she got to Math. She preferred playing it low key when it came to classes, it got her out of doing any extracurricular activities.
As Kaley turned to hurry away, she hit something similar to a brick wall and her books and bag scattered to the ground. She focused her eyes and saw Eli Stone standing there. He had run right into her, or visa-versa. It was probably visa-versa.
â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ Eli apologized, kneeling to the ground to help her throw everything back into her bag.
â€œItâ€™s okay,â€ Kaley replied, trying to quickly get the tampons back in her bag without them being noticed. She could feel her face burning with embarrassment.
â€œYouâ€™re late for Math too, right?â€
â€œYeah, I forgot my book.â€
â€œMe too.â€ Eli smiled as the last of the contents were back where they should be.
They stood, and as they did, Kaley realized something. Eli had seen her. Probably not when they had collided, but he had helped her and spoken with her.
That never happened.
Normally when people ran into her they would just keep walking. They would pretend nothing had happened, the way you do when you trip over a crack on the pavement. But Eli had stopped, he had looked, and he had seen her.
Kaley stared at him, wondering if it could possibly be true. Had Eli, the Eli, really spoken with her? Could it be she really wasnâ€™t invisible after all? It was all too much to wish for. She was being silly. She tried to make her body function again.
â€œYouâ€™re in my French class too, right?â€
â€œUh, yeah,â€ Kaley managed to stammer out.
Eli held her gaze for a moment longer before relaxing his shoulders. â€œIâ€™d better get my book and go to class.â€ He nodded toward his locker.
â€œOh, of course. Iâ€™ll see you there.â€ Kaley forced herself to turn around and walk away.
She was dazed and confused, a state she quite often found herself in lately. She hurried to class, trying to put all thoughts of Eli out of her mind. He was probably just being polite, or making fun of her. Whatever it was, it was nothing to get all girly about.
Sure, Eli was tall with luscious dark hair and blue eyes that shone like a thousand stars. And when he smiled he had dimples in his cheeks that were adorable. But that only meant he had much prettier and cooler girls after him.
It meant he couldnâ€™t possibly see her. It was stupid to think otherwise.
In every television show Kaley had ever seen, the parents were always good, wholesome, and sensible. She longed for those kinds of parents.
She wanted all the rules, boundaries, and sage advice those teenagers always received. She wanted to be grounded or have privileges taken away. She wanted to have a curfew to break, just once. Yet unfortunately her home life was quite the opposite.
Mrs. Georgina Thorne â€“ or Georgie to her friends â€“ looked up from the stove with relief. â€œThank goodness youâ€™re home. I need your help with the dinner party weâ€™re hosting tonight. Nothing is going right and I just know itâ€™s going to be a disaster.â€
Kaley picked up an apron and slid it over her head, tying it behind her. She knew it would be pointless protesting. â€œWhat do you need me to do?â€
A wooden spoon was placed in her hand and she got to work while Georgie fretted about some other concoction in the pot beside hers. It was kind of funny to watch her. She always stressed over everything she hosted, which was quite often. Mrs. Thorne was always throwing a dinner party or some other type of celebration. She was a social butterfly and knew practically everyone worth knowing.
Kaley often referred to her mother as Mother Barbie. She was tall, blonde, and perfectly put together â€“ just like the doll. She cared about her appearance and worried too much about what other people thought of her. She loved dressing up and going out and was desperate to be a cool mom.
Which was all good in theory, but the trouble was she wanted Kaley to be exactly the same. She wanted a daughter she could dress up and show off. What she got was quite the opposite, a daughter who was invisible and didnâ€™t really care too much about what other people thought.
They shouldnâ€™t have stopped at only one child, they really should have tried again to get it right, Kaley always thought.
â€œHow was your day?â€ Georgie asked.
â€œUsual,â€ Kaley replied, except that it wasnâ€™t. No matter how hard she tried, she could not expel Eli from her thoughts. She didnâ€™t want to tell her mother that story, she would make a big deal out of it. A much bigger deal than what it really was.
â€œDid you learn anything?â€
â€œWhy do parents always ask that question?â€
â€œAnswering a question with a question, youâ€™re hiding something.â€
Did she mention her mother was also really clever? Not in academics, but with people. She could read them like a book and it was really annoying. Kaley rarely had anything to hide but it should have been comforting to know that when she did, she would be able to get away with it.
Not with the super sleuth about.
â€œIâ€™m not hiding anything.â€ She tried anyway and then remembered her counter-move â€“ distraction. â€œHow did you and Dad meet? I donâ€™t think Iâ€™ve ever heard that story.â€
It worked perfectly as Georgieâ€™s eyes misted over.
â€œWe were high school sweethearts. I was the head cheerleader, I could have had any man I wanted. But it was the eye of the science nerd that caught my attention. I needed a tutor and the teacher suggested your father. We locked eyes over a chocolate milkshake and the rest is history,â€ Georgie finished with a dramatic flurry of her hand.
â€œHow did you know you were in love with him?â€
â€œMy heart beat faster whenever I thought of him. I actually looked forward to science class. Now that is love.â€
â€œJust like that? A beating heart said you were in love?â€
â€œTrust me, honey, when you find love youâ€™ll know it. It will hit you like a Mack truck.â€
Kaley nodded, deep in thought. She had been hit by a Mack truck, at least it felt that way when she had run into Eli. Perhaps there was more to it. After all, she couldnâ€™t get him out of her mind. Everything she did reminded her of those brief few moments spent together on the floor of the school corridor. She shook the thoughts away and changed the subject.
â€œSo who is coming to dinner tonight?â€ Kaley asked with only mild interest. There were always strangers in the house for some reason or another. She was used to walking into the living room in her pajamas only to be confronted by a room full of people she didnâ€™t know.
It was even worse when her mom started introducing her around.
â€œYour fatherâ€™s boss and his wife are coming. Dadâ€™s in line for a promotion so we need to make a good impression on them.â€
â€œOh no, thereâ€™s no we here. Thereâ€™s you and Dad, right?â€
â€œI was hoping youâ€™d join us.â€ Georgieâ€™s voice dripped with disappointment. She pouted like a little kid did when they didnâ€™t get their own way. Kaley was used to it, it didnâ€™t work on her anymore.
â€œIâ€™ll pass, thanks.â€
â€œDonâ€™t you want your father to get a promotion?â€
â€œOf course I do. However, I think that would be more likely if I wasnâ€™t there.â€
â€œFine. I give up. Spend the rest of your life in your bedroom playing that terrible guitar.â€ Georgieâ€™s hands shot up in the air to symbolize the giving up part, the wooden spoon dripped creamy liquid everywhere. â€œWill you please fold the napkins for me before you shut yourself away?â€
The napkins had to be folded a particular way or they would need to be redone. Kaley knew the process well, sheâ€™d been trained young. While other kids learned how to ride a bicycle, she learned how to fold napkins so they looked like a swan.
To each their own, she guessed. One day the skill might come in handy, like if she was working at a Chinese restaurant, perhaps. Or maybe it could be her talent in a beauty pageant. One of those alternatives was more likely to happen than the other.
As she folded, Kaley thought how good it would be for her father to get a promotion. The science nerd had become a sales rep after four years of college. He worked long hours and slaved away at his desk. He deserved to finally get somewhere after so many years of hard work. She crossed her fingers.
She also knew they would make a better impression on his boss if she wasnâ€™t there. A shy teenager was often mistaken for a sullen one, especially when old people were the ones making the assumption.
Kaley had never met her fatherâ€™s boss, but she bet he was old. You didnâ€™t get to be CEO of a corporation without putting in many years. Perhaps her father would be a CEO one day, it all started with one promotion.
â€œMom, Iâ€™m done. Iâ€™m going to my room,â€ Kaley yelled into the kitchen. She got a dismissive wave in response, good enough for approval.
The best part of her entire day was retreating to her room at night. It was her oasis, the one place where she could be who she really was. It contained all the usual things â€“ a bed, nightstand, wardrobe, desk, and a television.
But that wasnâ€™t the best part.
Her absolute favorite item in the room was her guitar. She had worked two jobs last summer in order to save for it. She didnâ€™t want just any old guitar, it had to be a Taylor brand.
Through the guitar she could express everything that was inside her head. When she couldnâ€™t say the words out loud, she could put them into a song and sing them. It was her outlet for all the terrible, horrible, wonderful, and magical things in her life.
Mostly, the songs were about how invisible she was. One day, she vowed, people would hear her songs even though they couldnâ€™t see her. She could never sing them in front of others, but perhaps someone would buy them one day. She would probably give them away if someone actually wanted them.
That was her dream, anyway.
Picking up the light brown acoustic guitar, Kaley sat on the edge of the bed and strummed. The beautiful humming sound she could hear and the familiar vibrations she could feel in her fingers was all she needed to instantly feel better. With that guitar in her hands, she felt invincible. It made a nice change to the rest of her life.
As she tried to replicate the tune she was hearing in her head on the strings, Kaleyâ€™s mind started wandering. Eli had been bouncing around in her brain all afternoon and he wasnâ€™t going away.
It had been fatally embarrassing running into him in the school hallway. If there had been other people around, she would have died right on the spot. But he was the one that had apologized. It was him that had run into her. And then he actually helped her put everything back into her bag. For one or two moments, their hands even touched.
Soon, the tune in her head had some words to go with them.
Itâ€™s a little bit magic, that thing that you do.
She tried a few different chords, trying to work out which one fit the best. The higher ones were too high and the lower ones she would never be able to sing. Kaley decided to stick with the middle range. She sang the words over and over again, making sure they fit the tune. It was a perfect match. She moved on.
Itâ€™s in the nod of your head, the twinkle in your eyes.
There was only one person that inspired the words: Eli. She thought of the few minutes they had spent together in the hallway. His eyes were so sparkly, so alive â€“ like he had some secret only he knew.
She wanted to know so badly what made his eyes twinkle like that. Surely it wouldnâ€™t be running into her. She wasnâ€™t the kind of girl that inspired such a reaction.
Kaley wrote down the notes and lyrics in her songbook. It was good enough to commit to paper â€“ but only in pencil. She wasnâ€™t ready to get the pen out yet and make it permanent.
Her songs were always a work in progress, no doubt they could be improved a thousand percent by someone who actually knew what they were doing.
Nobody knew of Kaleyâ€™s songbook except her old music teachers and they had sworn to secrecy. She had never told anyone else or shown them to anyone. It was her secret, one she felt was something that was all hers.
She didnâ€™t have anything else like that.
When her parents listened at her door â€“ and she knew they did that all the time, they were so nosy â€“ they just assumed she was playing a song sheâ€™d heard on the radio or downloaded from the internet. It never even crossed their minds that it was her music she was playing and not that created by someone else.
She would never correct them.
The sound of people outside interrupted her thoughts. Kaley went to the door and opened it a crack. Two strangers, presumably her fatherâ€™s boss and his wife, were standing in the living room. Just as suspected, they were on the older side. Probably about fifty, Kaley thought.
She closed the door, leaving them to it. Once they were ready to eat, her mother would deliver a plate of food to her door. She was good like that, she still thought about her even when there were more important people there.
Kaley continued playing her guitar, the tune in her head repeating over and over again until a few more chords fell out. She had twelve notes to play with, each song merely a variation of those same twelve. It was the same for every song ever sang, it all came down to those magic twelve.
Her first piano teacher taught her that. Old Mr. Doherty had been such a patient man. To five year old Kaley, he seemed a hundred years old. In reality, he was probably about sixty. He would spend one hour with her on a Tuesday evening.
His stories were almost as good as the lesson. He played nearly every musical instrument made and had been in the national orchestra for most of his adult life. Upon retirement, he decided to pass on his knowledge to students. All for twenty dollars an hour.
Those Tuesday lessons evolved into Tuesday and Thursday lessons as Kaleyâ€™s thirst for music couldnâ€™t be sated in just one hour. Mr. Doherty recognized her natural talent and aptitude for the notes and told her parents she needed to learn more.
To their credit, they listened and actually did something about it. Not only did they double the lesson time, but they also asked her if she wanted to try some other instruments.
She tried the flute but didnâ€™t really like the sound and the limitations. Next came the saxophone because she had seen Mr. Doherty play it once when he invited her to an orchestral performance. She could never make it sound like he did.
Next, Kaley tried the guitar. It was an instant fit. The beautiful rhythms it played danced around her ears like sparklers at Christmas time. She held it in front of her and her hands knew where the chords were.
She barely needed any lessons before she could play it as good as any adult. Her teacher was named Mr. Eton and he was possibly the coolest guy she had ever met. He never played the guitar professionally, he had always taught music in high school. Offering private lessons to younger kids was a way to make money on the side.
He knew thousands of songs and could play any in a heartbeat. He mesmerized seven year old Kaley with his talent and only sparked the fire inside her further.
Kaley still saw Mr. Doherty and Mr. Eton on a regular occasion. She no longer needed lessons, but occasionally she would play them a song she was particularly proud of. They were the only ones that knew of her secret songbook.
They promised to keep her secret, despite telling her too many times to count that she should share her talent. Every time she refused. It was something to give her a voice when she needed to find one â€“ not something to tell other people about. Even Harper didnâ€™t know, and they shared everything.
The door to her bedroom opened while Kaley was lost deep in thought. It startled her for a moment.
â€œYour dinner.â€ Georgie placed the plate on her desk. â€œAre you sure you donâ€™t want to join us? They arenâ€™t so bad, really.â€
â€œIâ€™ll be fine. Thanks, Mom.â€
â€œOkay, but if you want dessert, youâ€™ll have to come and get it.â€
Georgie closed the door after setting the bait. She always did that â€“ tried to lure her daughter out of the room. The joke was on her, Kaley didnâ€™t particularly like the dessert she made. It was a strawberry tart and she never put in enough sugar to make it sweet. She almost felt sorry for those that had to eat it and pretend it tasted good.
Kaley looked at her dinner, steam rising from the hot meal. It smelled really good, it was enough to tempt her away from her writing session.
She flicked on the television to have some background noise. It was better than listening to the outbursts of laughter coming from the dining room. Georgie had a high-pitched giggle that could resonate through several walls and a sturdy door.
It was one of the things she loved about her mother. It might grate on other people, but she found it cute â€“ like it reminded her of complete happiness. Either that or she was a good actress. It could have been either with Mother Barbie.
After the meal, Kaley returned to her guitar. She wasnâ€™t done with her song yet. She wanted to keep going, at least it kept the thoughts about Eli at bay while she worked. Providing she didnâ€™t focus on the lyrics, anyway.
The next day at school, Kaley found herself someplace she never thought she would. She never ventured there and never had a desire to. It was dangerous territory, she never knew what she could get hit with. A ball, a drumstick, a cheerleaderâ€™s hand, anything could come flying her way.
The bleachers surrounding the schoolâ€™s football field was a dangerous place indeed. Which is why she rarely went there.
Today was different, she was prepared to risk her life to catch a glimpse of someone. When she awoke that morning, she had hoped she would be over her stupid crush on Eli Stone. Whatever she had imagined that transpired between them yesterday didnâ€™t exist. It was ridiculous to think otherwise.
Which is exactly what she told herself every step of the way there. Her head was screaming for her to turn around and find Harper, yet her feet werenâ€™t listening. Her heart was apparently in control of them today. Or her delusions, one or the other.
Whatever, she couldnâ€™t stop herself from spying on him while he trained with the rest of the football team.
As if in slow motion, she watched as the sun glinted off his brown hair and basked his upturned face in the soft glow of the light. He was laughing, slapping his teammate on the back about something â€“ a shared joke Kaley would never know. In that moment, she was jealous of his friend. She wanted to be in on the joke and able to share in the laughter.
But that would never happen, the sensible part of her said so. Eli had only spoken to her because he had run into her. If it was a normal day and they didnâ€™t happen to collide, he wouldnâ€™t have even known she existed. He would have retrieved what he needed from his locker and she would have got to class quicker. At least then her head wouldnâ€™t be so full of damn Eli Stone.
â€œHey, here you are.â€ Harper interrupted her daydreaming and sat down beside her on the bleachers. â€œIâ€™ve been looking for you. Never thought Iâ€™d find you here but it was the last place I would have looked. And I always find what I need in the last place I look. So I looked here first and here you are.â€
â€œWhat?â€ Kaley only heard about two words of the whole sentence and understood even less of them.
â€œWhat are you doing here?â€ Harper wasnâ€™t prepared to repeat it again, once was enough.
â€œSomething must have made you come out here. You donâ€™t just go sit in the bleachers for nothing.â€
â€œWell, I am,â€ Kaley lied, trying not to get defensive. Harper knew her too well. If she tried too hard to cover her true reason, she would get it easily.
Harper shrugged and pulled out a mandarin, she started peeling it, offering half to Kaley. She scanned their surroundings, taking in everything that was happening on the pitch that afternoon.
The football team were practicing, as were the cheerleaders. A few enthusiastic people were running laps around the edges.
â€œOh my gosh, youâ€™re here watching Eli,â€ Harper accused when it hit her. They had started at the school a year earlier and never sat in the bleachers during lunchtime before. She knew there had to be an ulterior motive.
â€œNo, Iâ€™m not,â€ Kaley laughed but it didnâ€™t sound right. â€œCanâ€™t a girl just sit here and enjoy the sunshine?â€
â€œMaybe some other girl, but not you.â€
Kaley wondered whether she could get out of the situation without revealing her pathetic truth. She couldnâ€™t, there was no way Harper would let it go.
â€œFine, I was watching Eli.â€
â€œI knew it. You are totally crushing on him.â€
â€œWhy did I tell you about our encounter yesterday? I knew I should have kept it to myself.â€
â€œBecause you canâ€™t keep secrets from me.â€ Harper nudged her playfully. She looked at their target, the beautiful Eli, across the field. The team were practicing their throwing and catching skills. The ball seemed to float in and out of Eliâ€™s capable hands. Sweat was starting to slide down his face with the effort. â€œHeâ€™s really cute, I donâ€™t blame you. I can see the attraction.â€
â€œHeâ€™s also completely unattainable.â€
â€œMaybe not. Heâ€™s not getting back together with Abigail.â€
â€œHe isnâ€™t? How do you know?â€ Kaley perked up, her hope perhaps a little restored.
â€œI was in the bathroom when Abigail and her minions were talking. I stayed in the stall until they left. She said she was over him and on the prowl for someone that deserved her.â€
Kaley nodded, it did sound like something she would say. Abigail, in her world of being perfect, wouldnâ€™t appreciate a guy like Eli. She wouldnâ€™t be able to see him for the gorgeous and caring creature he was.
She would just see his perfect hair and adequate wallet. The moment he put a foot out of place, she would drop him and move onto the next guy. She was surprised she hadnâ€™t done it sooner.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t matter anyway, itâ€™s not like Eli is suddenly going to ask me out or anything.â€ Even though I desperately want him to, Kaley added in her head. Just the thought of it was enough to send the butterflies in her stomach into a spin.
â€œGuys like that donâ€™t go out with girls like us,â€ Harper sighed. She doubted whether even one person practicing on the field would be able to recall either of their names. â€œBut who needs them anyway? We donâ€™t need stupid boys. We can live without them.â€
â€œYeah, youâ€™re right,â€ Kaley said with conviction, trying to convince both of them. â€œItâ€™s their loss. Weâ€™re awesome.â€
â€œYeah we are. Awesome with a capital A.â€
The words were one thing, believing them was another. The truth was, if any of those boys ran up to the bleachers and declared their everlasting love for them, theyâ€™d change their minds in a heartbeat. There probably wouldnâ€™t even have to be a declaration, a passing â€˜heyâ€™ would likely have the same effect.
It was too depressing.
Harper changed the subject, remembering why she had been looking for Kaley in the first place. â€œHave you thought any more about joining the school band? Our first practice is this afternoon, itâ€™s not too late to sign up.â€
Kaley rolled her eyes, they had that same conversation too many times over the last few weeks. â€œIâ€™m not joining the band, Harper. Iâ€™m not good enough to play in public. I canâ€™t do it.â€
â€œMaybe if you played in front of people, we could be the judge of that. Youâ€™ve been taking lessons forever, you must be able to play something.â€
Harper would never understand, so Kaley didnâ€™t even try explaining any longer. The way she played music, the way she wrote songs, it wasnâ€™t up for public ridicule. It was her way of speaking to all those she couldnâ€™t. She didnâ€™t do it for otherâ€™s entertainment.
Plus, she would have to play the most boring songs in the world over and over again. She would rather be spending her time with her guitar, doing whatever she wanted.
â€œI donâ€™t want to play in the band. Itâ€™s your thing, not mine. Besides, if Iâ€™m in the band, who can cheer you on from the sidelines?â€ Kaley smiled, trying to make a joke of it. â€œI like cheering for you.â€
â€œYouâ€™re the only one.â€
â€œNot true, your parents are there for every performance.â€
â€œThat doesnâ€™t make it any better.â€ Harper pouted, but she couldnâ€™t stop the smile from spreading across her lips. â€œFine, but when we are winning the regional band competition and getting untold fame and wealth, youâ€™re going to be sorry. Youâ€™re going to be the girl that could have been in the band.â€
â€œI think Iâ€™ll be able to live with it.â€
The bell rang in the background, signaling the end of lunch. It was always the quickest forty minutes of the day, twice as short as any class of the same length.
Harper stood to leave, when Kaley didnâ€™t look like she was going anywhere, she was worried they werenâ€™t on the same planet anymore. â€œAre you coming? We have English class.â€
Kaley stole one last look at Eli as he used a towel to wipe off the sweat that had accumulated on the back of his neck. How she wished she was that towel at that very moment.
â€œYeah, letâ€™s go.â€ She tore herself away from the view, taking a snapshot in her mind so she could replay it later.
They went to one of the most boring classes they had on their schedule that semester. It wasnâ€™t that the actual subject of English was terrible, it was just the way the teacher made everything seem boring.
He didnâ€™t quite capture the love story in Romeo & Juliet, describing it as a lesson about defying your parents and the terrible consequences they had to deal with afterwards. Then there was the three weeks they spent on the proper use of grammar and how texting was depriving the world of vowels. That one was painful.
As Kaley sat in the middle of the room, her preferred seating for the least amount of teacher attention, her mind wandered.
She couldnâ€™t help it, if she heard Mr. Baron say the word herewith one more time, she was going to scream. Nobody spoke like that unless they were a lawyer, give it up already. Secretly, she suspected he might have been trying to start a trend at the school. Perhaps herewith would be the next watchword amongst the cool crowd.
It was the only explanation Kaley had.
Then her eyes started to wander too. Eli was sitting in the back of the class â€“ the last row and three away from the wall. He was writing something in his book, surely he couldnâ€™t be taking notes.
Kaley couldnâ€™t turn enough to see any of the details. She could barely hide the fact she was turning to look at him at all. She wished she had a mirror, that would have been handy for seeing behind her.
She imagined Eli was taking notes of all the important things Mr. Baron was saying. He probably got good grades, he was a smart guy. He would never excel in academics because of his hectic training schedule with the football team, but he had the capacity to. She just knew it.
She wondered if he liked English class or whether he found it just as boring as she did. Maybe. Perhaps taking notes was a way to quell the monotony.
A piece of paper rolled up in a ball landed on Kaleyâ€™s desk, jerking her from her daydream. She looked around, trying to work out where it came from. Harper was staring at her, wide eyed. She had been caught. Again. And by the one person who would know what she was thinking about.
She opened the note, it read:
Reconsidered band yet?
She shook her head, silently answering the question. She was relieved, Harper obviously wasnâ€™t aware of how she had been obsessing about a certain guy sitting in the back row. One less thing to explain after class.
â€œSo who can tell me where Shakespeare was born and the inspiration for all his greatest love stories?â€ Mr. Baron stood at the front of the class and looked for volunteers. He didnâ€™t get any, next he looked for victims.
Kaley didnâ€™t put up her hand, even though she knew the answer was Stratford-upon-Avon and Anne Hathaway. She nearly always knew the answers in her classes, but she would never put up her hand. She was too afraid of getting it wrong or being looked at by the others. She was happy being invisible in times like these. It meant she could fly under the radar.
Mr. Baron picked on a guy in the second to last row â€“ he didnâ€™t know either of the answers. It frustrated the teacher just as much as Kaley. He wasnâ€™t asking anything difficult, it was in last nightâ€™s homework questions. Obviously she was the only one that had done the required reading.
The minutes ticked by painfully slow. When the bell rang again, it was like a reprieve to end the torture. The only good thing was that Mr. Baron didnâ€™t have time to dish out any homework. They would get the night off, a real treat.
Kaleyâ€™s next class was gym, not her best subject. She and coordination did not belong in the same sentence. She hated the stupid games they were supposed to play. She would never get picked for anything, she was usually assigned to the team who had chosen second â€“ the leftover.
Not that she ever added anything to the side. It wasnâ€™t like she ever kicked a goal or returned a volleyball serve. She wasnâ€™t built for physical activities, not everyone was. Kaley had made peace with that fact in kindergarten. If only she could convince the teachers of that, too.
Todayâ€™s gym class was particularly bad â€“ hockey. A whole class of girls running around with sticks, all trying to hit one little puck. A lot of the time legs got in the way and they didnâ€™t particularly mind hitting a stray one if it meant winning â€“ merely collateral damage.
Kaley took her position at the edge of the field. The sun was hot as it hit her dark hair. She watched the game like she was a spectator and hoped the action wouldnâ€™t come anywhere near her.
She knew nobody would pass the puck to her, she was invisible after all. On the odd chance they would see her, they would know she would probably miss it anyway. Thatâ€™s usually what happened.
She shuffled from foot to foot, holding the hockey stick like a walking cane in front of her. At least it was something to lean on. She slowly and subtly edged her way to the left where a large shady tree was beckoning her. The limbs of the elm would give her some relief from the blazing sun. It might save her from fainting with heat exhaustion or getting all sweaty.
Making it to the tree, nobody seemed to have noticed. The game was going on at the other end of the field â€“ three girls all trying to get the puck under their control. It would be forever until they found their way to her end.
She looked over at the girl defending the goal closest to her. She was the athletic type, being on both the real hockey team and the basketball team. Her name was Miranda and she was paying the utmost attention to the game, completely intent on defending her position.
Kaley sighed with boredom. At least she hadnâ€™t thought about Eli for at least an hour since leaving English class. There was nothing in hockey that reminded her of him.
Yet she was still finding little things that did the trick quite well. Like Mirandaâ€™s helmet looked like the one Eli wore while playing football. The gym teacher was also the coach for the cheerleaders who were at every game Eli played in. The sky was as blue as their uniforms. She could find Eli in everything if she looked hard enough.
While she was lost in her daydreams, Kaley didnâ€™t see the puck heading straight for her. Girls started yelling but she never thought they were directing their calls at her. She didnâ€™t even have time to react before the black puck hit her leg â€“ just above the knee. She went down before she realized what was going on.
The teacher blew her whistle and the game stopped mid-play. Girls wandered off, returning to their post until it was time to go again. A few stayed to watch Kaley as she writhed around on the grass, clutching her leg. The pain was radiating out in waves as if someone had lodged an axe in her thigh.
â€œBeth, help her to the nurseâ€™s office,â€ the gym teacher ordered, completely lacking any sympathy. Kaley was just another casualty, yet another uncoordinated girl that couldnâ€™t get out of the way of the puck. â€œCome on girls, letâ€™s pick up the pace a bit.â€
She clapped her hands, blew her whistle, and threw the puck into the center of the field. The game restarted without any fanfare.
Beth, one of the others who had been defending the far reaches of the field, helped Kaley to her feet. She had to hop and limp, but she could walk if she leaned slightly on Beth.
She could probably have walked a little quicker if she had wanted to, but she got the impression Beth wasnâ€™t interested in getting there any faster either. If they took their time, they could miss the rest of the game and wait for the bell to ring.
â€œSorry you had to miss the game,â€ Kaley started to make conversation. She felt she had to say something while she was leaning on her shoulder.
â€œI donâ€™t think I was actually playing in it anyway. The most exciting part was when you were hit with the puck. I doubt theyâ€™ll be able to top that while Iâ€™m gone.â€
â€œIâ€™m glad you found some joy in my pain.â€ Despite the words, Kaley was smiling. She didnâ€™t really know Beth very well, but she knew enough to know she didnâ€™t dislike her. She had never said or done anything bad to her, she was just another one that never really saw her.
Unless she was hit by a hockey puck, anyway.
They reached the nurseâ€™s station and Kaley was ordered to sit on the bench and wait. Beth was ordered to stay with her in case the nurse needed her further.
The nurseâ€™s station was really just one room with two beds, separated by a curtain so worn it was almost see-through. The nurse, Miss Adele, was in her forties and nice enough. She could be rather mean when she wanted to, but was usually fair.
She had a good eye for when kids were faking injuries to get out of class or to be sent home. She usually dealt with them swiftly, giving them horrible tasting syrups that would cure any ailment. If you had been at the school for more than a term, you knew not to mess with her.
Kaley could hear voices behind the curtain, Miss Adele had another patient. It was a female voice. Kaley tried to place it â€“ she thought for sure she recognized it. Her and Beth both pretended not to listen. However the longer they spoke, the more difficult it became.
â€œItâ€™s really itchy, Miss Adele. Can you give me some cream or something?â€
â€œThe rash looks rather nasty. Have you been scratching it?â€
â€œI canâ€™t help it. What do you think it is?â€
Miss Adele paused to think it over. â€œI donâ€™t know. Iâ€™ll give you this lotion but I think you should go see your doctor. You donâ€™t want to be playing around with that part of your body. It could have serious consequences.â€
â€œLet me try the lotion.â€
Kaley and her chaperone exchanged a glance, Beth had a face that showed she was imagining a disgusting rash on the girl. It must have been bad or she wouldnâ€™t have got permission to be out of class to visit Miss Adele.
As she was finishing up, it finally came to Kaley who belonged to the voice. As soon as the name came to her, she was certain she was right.
It was Abigail sitting on the other side of the curtain.
She kept the information to herself, just in case she was incorrect. But she knew she wasnâ€™t. She would recognize her anywhere â€“ she spoke at every single school function about something or other. Even when she wasnâ€™t scheduled to she still found a reason to be in the spotlight.
Miss Adele finally finished with Abigail and came to inspect the damage done to her leg. It was aching where she had taken the blow, but she figured she would survive.
Miss Adele agreed. â€œYouâ€™ll live,â€ she concluded. â€œIt didnâ€™t break the skin so itâ€™s going to hurt for a while. Youâ€™ll also have a killer bruise there. Something to be really proud of.â€
â€œCan I do anything to reduce the swelling?â€ Kaley could see her leg getting bigger by the minute. It was at least half as large as the left one above the knee.
â€œIâ€™ll get you an ice pack. Do you want me to call your parents?â€
Kaley looked at the clock on the wall. It was almost time to go home anyway, but she normally walked. She guessed that would be out of the question that afternoon.
Miss Adele nodded and took down the number. It would be better coming from her than Kaley. Mother Barbie would probably be busy with one committee or another and wouldnâ€™t appreciate the call to duty. She wouldnâ€™t be able to say no to the school nurse.
She returned after only a few minutes.
â€œI got your father, your mother wasnâ€™t answering,â€ Miss Adele informed her. It didnâ€™t surprise Kaley. â€œHeâ€™ll be right over. He asked if you could wait outside in the usual spot.â€
Kaley thanked her and Beth for their help before making it outside on her own. She had to hobble to her locker to get her bag before waiting outside by the fence. She felt guilty for interrupting her dad from his work just to pick her up. It wouldnâ€™t look good for his promotion. She hoped he didnâ€™t miss out just because of her.
She had another twenty minutes to wait before Strom Thorne pulled up to the curb. He still looked like a science nerd, dressed in a black suit and tie. His thick rimmed glasses covered half of his face and his hair needed a cut.
It was a good thing he wasnâ€™t hired for his looks. Not that he wasnâ€™t handsome, just unkempt. He could use a good makeover to make himself a thousand times more attractive. His wife had been trying to do that for years and had gotten nowhere. Kaley didnâ€™t even try, she liked the way he didnâ€™t care. He was beautiful inside, that was all that mattered.
â€œThanks for picking me up,â€ Kaley said as she climbed into his silver sedan and closed the door. â€œIâ€™m sorry to bother you during the day.â€
â€œNot a problem, peanut.â€ He smiled. â€œAre you okay? The nurse said you took a hockey puck to the leg?â€
â€œYeah, they got me a good one. Iâ€™m going to have a bruise I can be proud of, apparently.â€
â€œYouâ€™ll finally get some street cred.â€
Kaley laughed, her dad always tried to use lingo he heard on the radio. â€œI guess so. Thanks for the lift, anyway.â€
â€œIâ€™m glad I got to see you, it feels like ages since weâ€™ve spent any time together. Whatâ€™s going on in your life?â€
It had seemed liked forever since theyâ€™d been alone together. Between his working and her homework, they rarely saw each other at night. A quick breakfast before hurrying off was normally as close to having a conversation as they got. And even then, Georgie was usually buzzing around talking about something else.
â€œNot much, Dad. Itâ€™s pretty much just school.â€
â€œWhat about Harper, is she good? Youâ€™re still friends and everything?â€
â€œYeah, Harperâ€™s great.â€
â€œAnd the boys? They arenâ€™t giving you any trouble, are they?â€ Strom risked taking a look at her, making sure he was getting the truth. He had never had a sixteen year old daughter before but heâ€™d heard plenty of horror stories from the men in the office about their experiences. He didnâ€™t want any boy sniffing around his daughter, it was far too dangerous.
â€œThereâ€™s no boys,â€ Kaley reassured him. She didnâ€™t add that she would have liked there to be boys around. Especially one in particular.
â€œGood. High school boys are bad news. I know, I used to be one.â€
The words gave Kaley an idea. Her dad was once a teenage boy. Perhaps he would be able to give her some insight about what goes through their minds. She was desperate enough to try anything.
â€œWhat do guys look for in a girl, Dad?â€
Strom was torn between wanting to answer honestly and needing to say the right thing. â€œWell, they look for a nice girl. And a pretty one too. Why, is there a boy you would like to know better?â€
â€œYou want my advice, peanut?â€ He waited until Kaley nodded before continuing. â€œJust be yourself. There is nothing more attractive in a girl than one that is happy with who they are. Be yourself and Iâ€™m sure the boys will come flocking to you.â€
â€œIâ€™ve been myself for sixteen years, Dad, and theyâ€™ve never come flocking.â€
â€œYou havenâ€™t always been the blossoming young woman you are now. It wonâ€™t be long before you are beating them away with a stick. Which reminds me, I should get a stick. If you wonâ€™t beat them away, I will.â€
It would have been nice to believe every word her father muttered, but Kaley knew better. The chances of boys lining up to date her, for them to even see her, was virtually impossible.
Nothing about her felt like she was a blossoming young woman. She still felt like the ugly duckling that perhaps one day would turn into an ugly duck. There was no beautiful swan in her future.
Despite her cynicism about her fatherâ€™s view of her, Kaley couldnâ€™t help but smile. At least there was one man in the world that thought she was beautiful and wonderful, even if that one man was her father. She missed their talks.
When Kaley was growing up, she would always spend time with her daddy â€“ he insisted on it. While her mother was out organizing a fundraiser or dinner party, he would take her for walks along the beach or teach her about the stars in the sky.
Their time together was always precious and it was always fun. He would make everything seem magical, even when it was just something ordinary like a tree.
The older Kaley grew, the less time they seemed to spend together. There was always homework to do or somewhere to go with Harper. She seemed to need him less and less which upset both of them.
Kaley made a note to herself to make sure she spent some more time with him. No matter how busy they were, they should always have time for each other.
They were family.
They arrived home and Strom left his daughter alone to return to work. But only after she insisted she was fine. She was happy to have some time alone before her mother got home and started fussing over her. She would act like the bruise on Kaleyâ€™s leg was the end of the world. She considered not telling her at all, but then Strom would let it slip before bedtime.
The song she was writing had played in a loop in her head all day. Whenever she thought of Eli it would start playing again and she would be unable to get it to stop.
She closed the door to her bedroom and picked up her guitar. It rested right on the spot where her bruise was forming, she tried to shift it slightly. The discomfort would be worth it to get the damn tune out of her head.
She started strumming, repeating the parts she had already worked out and then adding the latest lines.
Itâ€™s a little bit magic, that thing that you do,
Itâ€™s in the nod of your head, the twinkle in your eye,
No matter what you do, you cannot deny,
That Iâ€™m spellbound by you, you, you.
She found the right key and played it over and over again until she was satisfied with it. She wrote it in her book, committing it in pencil only.
Sometimes it took her only minutes to write a song, other times days or even months to find the right words. When they were particularly special to her, it would take longer because she would insist on perfection. It wasnâ€™t like she had to rush.
You look my way and itâ€™s hard to hide,
When Iâ€™m suddenly breathless, laid bare by your smile,
Itâ€™s like everyone else has just disappeared,
And itâ€™s only me and itâ€™s only you.
It wasnâ€™t long before Kaley was lost in her music. She didnâ€™t notice the throbbing in her leg or the front door open when her mother arrived home. All she could hear were the chords and all she could see was her music sheet lying on the bed in front of her. It was all she needed.
I stand to cross the room so I can be by your side,
My heart is pounding I donâ€™t know if Iâ€™ll survive,
And then you reach out your hand,
And you hold me so tight,
In that moment, I know Iâ€™ll be alright.
â€œHello, honey, how was your day?â€ Georgie stuck her head in the doorway, not bothering to knock.
â€œFine.â€ She quickly closed her songbook, keeping it away from prying eyes. And there were none more prying than her mothers.
â€œI have a missed call from your school on my phone, do you know anything about that?â€
â€œI took a hockey puck in the leg. It was Miss Adele calling to come and pick me up.â€
â€œOh, Iâ€™m so sorry. How did you get home?â€
â€œDad picked me up.â€
â€œOh. Is it bad?â€ Her face was already crinkled in anticipation of it being nasty.
Kaley held up her guitar to reveal the swollen leg and the bruise that was starting to turn a pretty shade of blue. â€œIt looks worse than it really is.â€
â€œDo you want anything for it? Some ice or something?â€
â€œIâ€™ll get you some ice.â€ Without waiting for any more protests, Georgie left. Kaley waited patiently for her to return, knowing there was nothing she could say to sway her.
She was only getting the ice out of guilt for not picking her up from school. She let her go through the motions, it would get her out of there faster.
â€œHere you go.â€ Georgie returned with an ice pack and gently laid it on her leg.
â€œThanks.â€ Kaley wouldnâ€™t admit it, but it did feel good on her burning leg. Come to think of it, Miss Adele had told her to ice it. She should have thought of it herself when she got home. If only she wasnâ€™t consumed by Eli and that damn song.
â€œIâ€™m going to start dinner, call me if you want anything.â€
Kaley closed the door again, making sure she couldnâ€™t be overheard. She started the song from the top and went again. The next lines were on the tip of her tongue, but she just couldnâ€™t quite spit them out.
The music was coming with no problems, she had the melody down in her songbook. But the lyrics were causing trouble, she needed to find the right words to describe how she was feeling. At the moment it was frustration, but that wasnâ€™t how she felt about Eli. She felt much better things about him.
This magic we have, this thing that we share,
Itâ€™s unique to us, but only if we dare.
A noise distracted her, an insistent tapping sound. She looked at the window, recognizing the pattern. Her next door neighbor was throwing small pebbles at her window, trying to get her attention. She stood and opened the pane.
â€œI heard you got hurt today, are you alright?â€
â€œYeah, just a bruise. Miss Adele said Iâ€™ll live.â€
Kaley smiled, feeling awkward standing in the window. Her bedroom faced the bedroom of Harvey Walker, it had done for eight years â€“ ever since she had moved in.
He was sixteen years old too, they went to the same school and had most of their classes together. They had been walking to and from school together for as long as she could remember.
He had blonde hair that was always in need of a cut and he had grown taller than anyone expected â€“ he stood a good foot taller than her now.
If he took more care in his appearance, he would most likely be described as good looking. But Kaley never really noticed, she could never look at him that way, he was like a brother. Harvey was probably the only person who knew her almost as well as Harper.
She watched as Harvey tried to find something else to say, he always got a cute little look on his face when he was thinking. It was a cross between confusion and concentration. She broke the silence herself, trying not to giggle at his expression.
â€œDid I miss anything good on the walk home?â€
â€œJust the usual â€“ dogs barking, cars trying to run me over, and Mr. Mirren telling me I was lucky to have such a short walk.â€ He shrugged. â€œIt wasnâ€™t as fun without you. Iâ€™m glad youâ€™re okay.â€
â€œI might not be able to walk for the next few days. I think Mother Barbie might feel a bit bad and drive me. Do you want a lift?â€
â€œIâ€™ll be right to walk, but thanks anyway.â€ Harveyâ€™s mother could be heard through his door, yelling something indeterminable and distracting him for a moment. â€œI better go. Iâ€™m glad youâ€™re better. If you need anything, you know where I am. Have a good night.â€
â€œThanks, you too.â€
Kaley closed her window and watched as Harvey disappeared into his house. He was sweet, the mutual comfort they had with each other was beyond comparison to anyone else in her life.
Harper liked him too which was an extra bonus â€“ she never really liked people. They had known each other for so long there wasnâ€™t much the three of them didnâ€™t know about each other.
Harvey didnâ€™t know it, but he was the subject of many songs Kaley had written. They were always about his friendship and how glad she was to know him. Those songs were usually written quickly, hastily jotted down on any piece of paper that was at hand.
Harper made an appearance in some of the songs too, although their friendship felt more sisterly. Perhaps one day she would sing the tunes for them, but not in any future she could foresee.
After the interruption, Kaley decided not to pick up the guitar again. It was difficult to juggle both it and the ice pack. Instead, she turned on her laptop and sat in front of the computer. She planned on just checking Facebook and Twitter, see what was going on in everyone elseâ€™s lives that day.
However, things didnâ€™t exactly go to plan, her curiosity got the better of her. Although, curiosity was just a polite way to refer to her Eli obsession.
She went to the school chat room, something she rarely did. Being invisible, nobody ever gossiped about her on the site, however they did talk about nearly everybody else. It wasnâ€™t an official, school sanctioned site so everyone had free reign to say whatever they wanted with little to no consequences. She doubted whether the school principal even knew about it.
The only times Kaley visited the chat room was when she needed to know something. Occasionally, she would pick up a whisper that was particularly salacious and wanted to know more.
Harper was usually a good source of information, she normally eavesdropped on every conversation she came across. However, sometimes there would be something so juicy that even she didnâ€™t know. The chat room usually had all the details.
She logged in and watched the conversations going on. She had never actually participated in one yet, but she was certain nobody would know who she was anyway.
Once, she had thought about using the chat room to start a rumor about herself. Nothing bad, just something that would make her a topic of conversation. She didnâ€™t have the guts to go through with it, assuming it would probably backfire anyway.
Most of the chatter was about the big football game coming up and complaints about too much homework from old Mr. Wiley.
The usual stuff.
It took over ten minutes for her to recognize the avatar of Abigail as she logged on. She was immediately messaged by one of her minions, a girl named Macy. People tried to conceal their true identities in the chat room, but Kaley had worked most of them out. It wasnâ€™t hard in most cases, however there were a few she still couldnâ€™t identify. It annoyed her that she couldnâ€™t work it out.
Kaley watched the exchange between Macy and Abigail, otherwise known as Lollipops and Sparkles. Despite talking in a kind of code, she could follow it. They talked about a shirt someone wore that they apparently found repulsive for ages before getting to the good stuff.
<Lollipops> Did you talk with him today?
<Sparkles> I donâ€™t know.
<Lollipops> It looked pretty intense.
<Sparkles> It was. He said sorry.
<Lollipops> So are you back together, itâ€™s what you wanted, right?
<Sparkles> Yeah, I gave him one last chance. He better not stuff it up again or I swear, itâ€™s over for good.
<Lollipops> He doesnâ€™t deserve you.
<Sparkles> I know.
Kaleyâ€™s heart sank. They were obviously talking about Eli and obviously he had gotten back together with Abigail. After the very public fight they had at school, she was surprised to think Abigail would stoop so low to forgive him.
She had been publicly embarrassed, that was an offence punishable by death. Nobody else had been afforded a second chance, she wished Eli wasnâ€™t the first.
She logged out of the chat room as the conversation started turning to shoes. She had seen more than enough, her hopes were crushed beyond repair.
She needed to get Eli out of her head, she was no match for Abigail. If there had been a tiny chance before, that boat had now well and truly sailed â€“ to Siberia. Writing her stupid song was pointless, she may as well give up now.
If only it was that simple. If she knew how, she would do it. The problem was she had no idea how she was supposed to get over Eli. Or, at least, the very idea of Eli. He consumed her every thought, she couldnâ€™t turn it off.
â€œDinner, Kaley,â€ Georgie called from the kitchen.
At least that would be a distraction. Kaley put away her laptop and tried to put on a smile. She limped out of the room, vowing she would not reveal her stupid crush and subsequent heartbreak to her mother. It would only make things a hundred times worse.
â€œKaley, do you mind if I come in?â€ Georgie knocked on her door, speaking in such a quiet tone that Kaley wasnâ€™t sure if she heard right. Her mother never asked for permission to come in, what was going on?
She started to get a bad feeling that something terrible was about to happen. The same kind of feeling she got when a teacher said they had a surprise for the class and she knew that meant a test.
â€œSure, Mom, come in.â€
Georgie sat on the bed and stared at her daughter for some time. Enough time to completely freak her out.
â€œIs everything okay?â€ Kaley finally asked, having enough of the staring competition. She may as well hear the bad news now and get it over and done with.
â€œYou didnâ€™t eat very much at dinner tonight, are you feeling alright?â€ She placed a hand on her forehead and felt for a fever. There was none, of course. She took her hand back.
â€œMom, Iâ€™m fine. I just wasnâ€™t very hungry.â€ Kaley didnâ€™t add the part about how her appetite had completely disappeared when she saw Abigail explaining how she had taken Eli back.
â€œDid something happen at school today? They didnâ€™t purposefully hit you with that hockey puck, did they?â€
â€œNo, Mom. It was just an accident.â€ She wasnâ€™t visible enough to have someone dislike her enough to hurt her on purpose, she knew this without question.
â€œI worry about you, Kaley. You donâ€™t talk much to me anymore. You used to tell me everything and now I have to guess whatâ€™s going on in your life. I worry youâ€™re hiding things from me.â€
Kaleyâ€™s first reaction was to roll her eyes, but she refrained. She could tell it was something her mother was really worried about. She sometimes had moments when she doubted whether she was being a good enough mother.
It was those moments when Kaley would always reassure her she was and that everything was fine. It would be sufficient for another few weeks, sometimes even months, before the doubts crept back in again.
â€œIâ€™m not hiding anything,â€ Kaley said, using her most innocent face. â€œYou just have a very boring daughter that really doesnâ€™t do anything. If I did, youâ€™d be the first person I told.â€
â€œMany girls your age have eating disorders, or theyâ€™re cutting themselves. Itâ€™s an epidemic. Just promise me you arenâ€™t doing either of those things.â€
â€œI promise I donâ€™t have an eating disorder and definitely not cutting myself. See.â€ She turned over her wrists to prove her point â€“ no scars or freshly opened wounds. â€œAll clear.â€
â€œOkay then. As long as you promise youâ€™ll tell me if something is wrong. You can talk to me about anything.â€
â€œHave a good nightâ€™s sleep then.â€ Georgie leaned over and kissed her on the forehead, like she used to when she was little. It was a sweet gesture, Kaley actually tolerated it.
She watched as her mother left before breathing a sigh of relief. Mother Barbie always overreacted to everything, hence the reason she was always kept out of the loop.
She could only imagine what her mother would say if she actually told her about Eli. But really, what was there to tell? Some guy had run into her in the corridor and she felt an obsessive need to think about him constantly? That wasnâ€™t newsworthy, that was just pathetic.
As she turned off the light and settled into bed, she did, however, make a mental note to find something new to tell her mother. Perhaps she would have to make something up, like she joined the band with Harper. That would get her out of trouble for a while.
Little did she realize the next day would bring something actually noteworthy. Something Mother Barbie would just eat up.
There was always a time in the school year which signaled the end of the world. It was a time when you felt the ground should open up and be done with you. Or lightning should strike you down to the floor right away. At Sandyridge High School, that moment was now. The posters for the first official dance of the year were being slapped onto the wall.
â€œAlready?â€ Kaley moaned to herself as she stared from her locker. She wondered if she would fit inside and be able to lock the door from in there. It would be more comfortable than watching everyone fuss over the stupid dance.
And then there would be Harper. Every dance she tried desperately to get a date. She always wanted to go to every school event, she genuinely enjoyed them for some unknown reason. The problem was she rarely got asked so would drag Kaley along for company.
It was pathetic, standing by the wall watching everyone else have a good time while they sipped on their punch. The clock would slowly get more interesting than the dancers as she counted down the minutes until one of their parents would pick them up.
For just a moment of indulgence, Kaley wondered what it would feel like to be excited to go to the dance. She imagined what it would be like to have Eli ask her, pick her up and give her a corsage, and then dance with her all night.
The thought of it sent butterflies shuddering around her stomach. She quickly pushed the thought away, it would never happen. He was probably asking Abigail at that very moment, probably in some romantic way, too.
The voice came so suddenly behind her it made her jump. She shook away her daydream and turned to the owner of the voice.
â€œHey, Harvey. Can you believe itâ€™s that time again? Theyâ€™re torturing us early this year.â€
Harvey shrugged, the way he always did when he didnâ€™t know what to say. â€œI guess some people enjoy the dance.â€
â€œYeah, the popular people.â€
â€œOther people enjoy it, too. People like us.â€
Kaley looked at him for a moment in confusion, she had no idea who he was talking about. There was the popular people and then everybody else. That was about it. Invisible people didnâ€™t count, nobody ever counted them.
Harvey could possibly be considered invisible, he was on the cusp. He was a nice, cute guy â€“ that got him some attention. Especially from those that needed a math tutor. However, Kaley got the feeling he was happy to fly under the radar. He didnâ€™t really belong to any group so he was a free agent. He could talk to anyone, really.
â€œI wonder what the theme is this year,â€ Kaley commented, not really caring about anything but filling the silence. She turned to her locker to retrieve the books she needed. â€œThe poster is a bit ambiguous.â€
â€œI think itâ€™s a fifties theme or something. I overheard some girls talking about poodle skirts.â€
â€œGee, I canâ€™t wait.â€
â€œCanâ€™t wait for what?â€ Harper joined them, her usual perky self. She was already holding her books, ready for another day.
â€œKaley canâ€™t wait for the dance,â€ Harvey answered for her. â€œI know, I was shocked too.â€ He feigned surprise, his sarcasm getting the better of him. â€œIâ€™ll see you around.â€
Kaley closed her locker and started walking, Harper giggling at her side. She saw Harvey disappear into the crowd ahead.
â€œSo did he ask you?â€ Harper questioned when she was sure he was out of earshot.
â€œAsk me what?â€
â€œAsk you to the dance.â€ She rolled her eyes, as if that should have been obvious. â€œClearly he wants to.â€
That was possibly the scariest thing Harper had ever said. â€œNo he doesnâ€™t. We were just talking about the theme, thatâ€™s all. Eww, Harvey and I have known each other since we were six. Heâ€™s like my brother.â€
â€œFeelings change over time, Kaley. You canâ€™t deny that heâ€™s hot. And youâ€™re hot. I think youâ€™d be cute together.â€
â€œIâ€™m not even having this discussion with you.â€ She started walking quicker, hoping to avoid the whole conversation.
â€œYouâ€™ll see Iâ€™m right. Maybe you should give him a break and ask him to the dance.â€
She clearly wasnâ€™t going to shut up about it. Kaley decided to turn it back around on her. â€œWho are you going to ask anyway? Have any victim in mind?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know. Iâ€™d really like to go with Cooper Sutton, but I donâ€™t think heâ€™ll ask me.â€
â€œYou could ask him, get in quick before someone else does?â€
Harper shook her head sadly. â€œI couldnâ€™t do that. Heâ€™d probably laugh at me. Why do the mean ones always have to be so gorgeous?â€
Kaleyâ€™s mind turned to Eli. She would probably get the same reaction if she asked him to the dance. She didnâ€™t blame Harper for chickening out. After all, she was doing the same thing. She would rather be Harperâ€™s date to the dance than suffer the humiliation of being rejected.
â€œWho knows? Maybe weâ€™ll both get lucky and be asked out by our dream guys this year,â€ Kaley said optimistically. She knew there was no chance of it, but it seemed to cheer Harper up. And who knows, perhaps it might happen eventually? She just hoped it wouldnâ€™t be Harvey that asked her, as Harper predicted.
They walked to class slowly to allow for Kaleyâ€™s injured leg, watching all the happy couples talking about the dance as they went. It seemed like everyone was already paired up, not only for the dance but for the year too.
Everyone except them.
Perhaps there was something wrong with the boy to girl ratio in their grade. Perhaps the girls outnumbered the boys so some had to go without. But it seemed like there were only the two of them left over, maybe it wasnâ€™t the ratio that was off.
Kaley was so desperate she was about to do something she knew she would regret later on. Perhaps even start regretting instantly. However, she had no other choice.
She had spent the entire day watching couples cozy up together and chatter repeatedly about the stupid dance. Even Harper had gone on about it all through lunch.
With every couple reminding her of Eli, she needed to take drastic action. And that would be in the form of talking with her mother about it. She would kill two birds with one stone â€“ make her mother feel included and maybe get some good advice.
She had kept an eye out for Eli all day, waiting to see him walking hand-in-hand with Abigail around the school. Yet she hadnâ€™t seen him once outside the classroom.
She couldnâ€™t tell just by watching him in class if he was happy to be back together with her. Was it wrong to hope he was miserable? Did that make her a bad person? Or was all fair in love and high school?
â€œMom,â€ she started, hoping she wasnâ€™t making a big mistake. She leaned on the kitchen counter, pretending to act casual and not like her life depended on the conversation. â€œHow do you get someone to notice you?â€
â€œAre we talking about a boy or a girl?â€
â€œOh good, you like boys, doesnâ€™t hurt to check.â€ Georgie winked and smiled. â€œWell, the first thing I would do is change your wardrobe. You dress like you donâ€™t care how you look.â€
Kaley looked down at her clothes, she wore jeans and a plain black top. What was so wrong about that? They were clean and there werenâ€™t any holes or loose hems. Surely that would show she cared about what she was wearing?
â€œWhatâ€™s wrong with my clothes?â€
â€œThey are so boring. You always wear jeans and a plain shirt. Would it kill you to wear a pretty dress now and then? Or even a nice blouse wouldnâ€™t go astray.â€
â€œDo guys care about things like that?â€
â€œNot really, but if you want them to notice you, then yes. Does a bee buzz around a boring tree? No, it goes straight for the bright flower.â€ Georgie tapped her on the nose, like she would do when she was five years old and learning how to spell. â€œYou need to be a bright flower or the bees will always fly past for a better offer.â€
Kaley tried to argue with that logic, but couldnâ€™t. Her mother was right. All the popular girls at school always looked immaculate. They wouldnâ€™t be caught dead wearing jeans and a black top. They wouldnâ€™t even settle for a green top â€“ it wouldnâ€™t be pretty enough for them.
â€œSo assuming I want to catch a bee, can you help me find something to wear?â€
Georgie stopped in her tracks, a grin spreading across her face. â€œI thought youâ€™d never ask. Letâ€™s go.â€
Before she could protest, Georgie had her hand and was dragging Kaley into her bedroom. She opened the doors to her closet and flicked through her clothes.
â€œIs everything you own so drab?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know, theyâ€™re just clothes. I havenâ€™t really thought about it before.â€
Georgie made a face of disapproval at every outfit Kaley owned. It was all so sensible, there were no other words to describe it. Functional â€“ yes, guy bait â€“ no. How had she given birth to a child that didnâ€™t care about fashion? She must have inherited her fatherâ€™s genes. He never cared about his clothes either.
â€œThis wonâ€™t do. You and I are going to go shopping, my girl. Until then, follow me.â€
Kaley reluctantly followed Georgie into her parentsâ€™ bedroom where the closet doors were flung open there too. The bright colors that confronted them were like an assault to the eyes. The wardrobe was overflowing with clothes, a tiny section devoted just to her fatherâ€™s. Shoes lined the bottom, pairs upon pairs of high heels in every imaginable shade.
Georgie got straight to work, going through the clothes one by one. She would occasionally pull out a dress and show it to Kaley but only received a head shake in reply.
â€œHow about this one? I think you would look adorable in it.â€ Georgie was holding a red dress with loose frills that fringed the neckline. While being bright red, it was still actually quite demure. It probably wouldnâ€™t be too terrible to wear, at least it had sleeves.
â€œYou really think Iâ€™d look good in it?â€
â€œOne way to find out.â€
Georgie threw her the dress, she quickly changed. It fit perfectly, hugging her curves in all the right places. The hemline almost made it to her knees so it wasnâ€™t too short, and the frills covered any obvious signs of cleavage. It was cute without being sexy, it probably wouldnâ€™t be breaking any school dress codes.
â€œOh, you look beautiful,â€ Georgie gushed. â€œMy baby is all grown up. Let me get the camera.â€
â€œNo, Mom, no camera.â€
Her pleas fell on deaf ears, Georgie returned with her camera and took a photo before Kaley could protest. She got only one before she started to pull faces at the lens.
â€œYouâ€™ll have a whole hive full of bees soon, honey.â€
Kaley looked in the mirror, wishing that was true. While she considered the dress fit her well, she couldnâ€™t see that she was competition for any of the girls at school. She had nothing on them, underneath the red dress she was still the same boring, invisible Kaley. It would take a miracle for anyone to see her.
She thanked her mother and retreated to her room. While her mother was over the moon for all the mother/daughter bonding, Kaley was left feeling depressed about the whole situation. She hoped the red dress would have unexpected results and actually work.
Taking a glance at Harveyâ€™s window, Kaley could see he wasnâ€™t in his room. Good. She had been nervous about seeing him again after Harperâ€™s little rampage that morning. She didnâ€™t believe Harvey thought of her as anything except friends, but the thought would annoyingly pick at her brain every time she thought about him. Damn Harper.
She picked up her guitar and started strumming nothing in particular, just a random tune her fingers created as they went along. She loved playing the guitar, it always made her feel better. No matter what life happened to be throwing at her at the time.
Soon, some words came to her lips to match the music. She wasnâ€™t really even thinking about it, just saying whatever felt right.
Iâ€™m standing in front of you,
My heart is in my hands,
But you just see right through me,
You donâ€™t even know Iâ€™m there.
The four lines perfectly summed up how she was feeling. About Eli, about everyone. There she was, vulnerable inside and just wishing people would see her.
You fill my every thought,
You are in my every dream,
I want to feel your arms around me,
But all you ever are is mean.
She repeated the verses over and over again, putting in a long guitar break. She put attitude into it, not wanting it to sound like a vulnerable song. She grew angry, annoyed that no matter what she did, people always ignored her. What could be so wrong about her that made her invisible? What did she possibly do to deserve it? The chorus came to her:
Why am I so invisible to you?
Why do you never see me?
Am I just that unlovable?
What can I do to make you see?
Without stopping, Kaley repeated everything from the start. Her hands didnâ€™t need to think about the notes, they came to her like they had a mind of their own. So did the next verse:
My heart breaks whenever youâ€™re near
Because I know youâ€™ll never be mine,
If only you could see who I am,
I know youâ€™d like me just fine.
Kaley only stopped long enough to scribble it down in her songbook. The notes breezed through her mind, replaying again and again. How music could always sum up what she was feeling was always a mystery to her. There was something magical about music, it just got her.
After the frenzied writing, Kaley became aware of eyes on her. She felt it before she saw them. She looked around, it had grown dark outside, how long had she been songwriting for? The clock flashed 6:48, it had taken her almost two hours to get the song out of her system. She turned on the lamp so she could see better.
She went to close her curtains and saw the eyes â€“ they belonged to Harvey. He was sitting at his computer desk but his seat was facing her. He waved.
How long had he been watching her? She waved back, he had probably only just sat down when she felt the staring. Watching her would have been as boring as watching grass grow, she doubted whether she would have been able to keep his interest very long.
â€œDinner, Kaley,â€ Georgieâ€™s voice rung out.
Kaley closed the curtains and went to dinner, feeling so much better than when she had entered the room. It wasnâ€™t just music to her, it was therapy. Far cheaper and less traumatic than the doctor type.
â€œYou look beautiful, honey. Work it.â€ Georgie shooed Kaley out of the vehicle. She stepped out feeling very self-conscious. She had never worn a dress to school before, not since pre-school anyway. Why did she let her mother talk her into it? Especially a red dress. She felt as if she stuck out like a sore thumb.
She turned around to get back into the car, changing her mind about the whole thing, but Georgie locked the doors and drove off with a final wave. She stood on the path alone, feeling like everyone was watching her and she was totally alone.
Pulling the dress down, she wondered if it was too short after all. The popular girls wore their skirts so high they couldnâ€™t bend over without showing their knickers. Hers was at least six inches longer than that.
She spotted Harvey walking up the path toward her. If she acted quickly, he might not notice her. She started moving to her locker, not having the choice to turn back now.
If there was ever a time when she wanted to be invisible, it was now. But wasnâ€™t that the whole point? To stand out and actually be seen? She started wondering what madness had overtaken her.
â€œNice dress, Kaley,â€ Harvey commented. She froze. Damn, he had caught up to her. She spun around and pretended to be cool and casual.
â€œThanks, itâ€™s my momâ€™s.â€
Why did she say that? She couldnâ€™t have stopped at thanks? She inwardly groaned at herself, it was going to be a long day. Perhaps she could change into her gym uniform, nobody would notice that.
â€œWell, you look really pretty. Have a good day.â€ Harvey smiled and hurried off without waiting for a response. Despite her concerns, she actually smiled. At least she got one compliment on her outfit, maybe the day wouldnâ€™t be so bad after all.
Harper wasnâ€™t to be seen anywhere when Kaley went looking for her. Then she remembered she had band practice that morning. She wouldnâ€™t see her until their first class together â€“ Science. She went to class and took her seat, not caring that she was fifteen minutes early. It was better than standing around feeling like a fool in a red dress.
By the time Harper took the seat next to her, the teacher was already standing at the front of the class and speaking. Good, she wouldnâ€™t have to answer any questions about her outfit.
It was the only thing she could think about, wondering if anyone had noticed her and what they were thinking. Her biggest worry was that she looked so stupid people would be making fun of her. Would that mean her mission to be noticed was successful? Technically yes, she supposed.
She tried to distract herself by focusing on the lesson. Science was actually something she enjoyed, she probably got that from her father too. She liked the way things made sense and could be explained. If she mixed one chemical with another, it reacted in an expected way. No matter how many times she did it, it would always have the same outcome.
She wished life could be that easy. The trouble with taking risks was that she didnâ€™t know the outcome. She could do the same thing repeatedly and now and then have a different outcome. Life had surprises, science didnâ€™t.
When the bell rang signaling lunch time, Kaley didnâ€™t have time to even stand before Harper was onto her.
â€œWhatâ€™s with the dress? You look gorgeous.â€
â€œYou really think so? It was Mother Barbieâ€™s idea. She thinks I dress too boring.â€
â€œI agree with her.â€ Harper felt the fabric, it was soft and flowing, definitely something she approved of. She had been trying to get Kaley to wear dresses for years, just like her.
â€œIt kind of feels weird though, this isnâ€™t really me,â€ Kaley confessed. She knew thatâ€™s what she was going for, but it didnâ€™t make it any more comfortable. At least while they lingered there talking, the rest of the class could filter out so she didnâ€™t have to wonder whether they were looking at her as she walked.
â€œMaybe itâ€™s a new you.â€ Harper smiled. â€œYou do look really good. Iâ€™m sure Harvey would approve.â€
â€œHeâ€™s already said he liked it. But it didnâ€™t mean anything, he was just being nice and said it in passing.â€
â€œSure. Letâ€™s get to lunch, Iâ€™m starving.â€
They stood and headed for the cafeteria. They were at the end of the lunch rush, also at the end of the queue. They had to wait for seemingly ages before they reached the food.
Kaley chose a sandwich and a juice, her usual staple foods. She picked up her tray and started toward their usual table. It wasnâ€™t that people left it for her and Harper specifically, just that nobody else wanted to sit there. It was next to the kitchen and nearly always too hot for comfort. The perfect place for the invisible people to sit.
As she walked, Kaley stopped suddenly to avoid the body passing in front of her. She looked up to see Eli only inches away from her. He was walking with a teammate, talking animatedly. Kaley didnâ€™t move, she desperately wanted him to notice her in her red dress. Perhaps it would make him view her differently. Perhaps it would make him see her, full stop.
She could feel her heat beating in her chest, so hard it might jump through her dress. She wanted him to look her way, she imagined locking eyes with him and then seeing him smile. The world around them would stop and it would just be them standing there in the cafeteria. She desperately hoped for that moment, for even just a glimmer of hope that perhaps Eli and her actually had something.
But he kept walking. He didnâ€™t stop for even a beat of his conversation with his friend. She was nothing but a red speck in his peripheral vision. If even that. For all he acknowledged, she didnâ€™t even exist on the same planet as he did.
She skulked off to her table, hoping her burning face wasnâ€™t as red as her dress. She felt humiliated, so embarrassed that she had dared to wish for Eli to look at her. She was so stupid for thinking he even knew she existed.
She scolded herself, wishing she could sink into the ground and never be seen again. Wearing the dress was a terrible idea, it wasnâ€™t her and didnâ€™t change anything. She was right, underneath she was still the same plain, invisible self.
She felt Harper sit beside her but she couldnâ€™t look at her until she had composed herself. She didnâ€™t need the third degree right now. Harper would probably guess what was upsetting her and ask a million questions about it to analyze it to the core. She put on a brave face and took a few breaths.
â€œSo how was band practice this morning?â€ she asked, it was a relatively safe topic.
â€œIt would have been better with you there.â€
Okay, maybe it wasnâ€™t so safe. â€œDid they tell you what song youâ€™re going to be learning for the showcase concert?â€
â€œThey havenâ€™t decided yet. They want to make sure everyone knows the basics so we have to cover nursery rhymes for a few weeks.â€ Harper rolled her eyes. She had been playing the violin in the school band since she was eight years old, she could play any of the basics in about any key chosen. â€œI hate it when newbieâ€™s join.â€
â€œI would have been a newbie,â€ Kaley reminded her.
â€œTrue. I probably would have had to give you mean looks for a few weeks too. I would have apologized after every practice.â€
Kaley laughed, starting to feel so much better already. Harper had that effect on her, she would always say the funniest things just by being herself. In many ways, Kaley envied her for that. Harper wasnâ€™t afraid to be who she was, she just got on with it. What you saw was what you got, and that was just one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. It was a pity no-one else saw that too.
â€œOh, speaking of which, I have to pick up my new uniform before lunch ends. Otherwise I wonâ€™t be able to get a good one and Iâ€™ll be stuck wearing something that someone else has sweated in for a year.â€ Harper stood, taking the last bite of her sandwich. â€œIâ€™ll see you later, wish me luck.â€
Kaley watched her go before realizing she was sitting at the entire table alone. It was pathetic. And lonely.
She finished her sandwich and left the noisy cafeteria. She tried hard not to look at Eli sitting in amongst all the popular people. But she couldnâ€™t help it and was punished with seeing Abigail seated beside him. So they were back together. It was just another punch to her heart. She walked faster.
Looking at her watch, there was still another twenty minutes before the next class. It was English, she didnâ€™t want to be early for that. It wasnâ€™t one of her favorites, it was one of those interpretive subjects, one where the answers werenâ€™t perfectly formulated like science was.
She saw Harvey across the courtyard, he was sitting with a few of the guys he called friends. Kaley had never really spoken with them before, but she knew Harvey got along well with them. She didnâ€™t feel like barging in on their conversation.
She kept walking and found herself in the music room. She had music classes once a week at the school. Initially, she had been excited about them, except she soon discovered they werenâ€™t practical.
The teacher was always going on about the history of music and Beethoven or Bach. She could play the 5th Symphony on the piano by the age of nine, she didnâ€™t need to write a whole two thousand word essay on it.
The music room itself, however, was fully equipped. The instruments were mainly used by the band or for the annual school musical when they needed extra people to fill the orchestra.
Or perhaps there was a secret music class where the students actually got to make music. Kaley didnâ€™t really mind though, she didnâ€™t want to play in front of others. Which she would have to do if the class was practical.
Kaley wandered around, letting her finger trace the patterns on the various instruments. They truly were things of beauty. She could never stop appreciating the large, dramatic curves of the cello or the elegant feet of the piano. Their makers were craftsmen, she thought they were the most beautiful things in the world.
She sat at the piano, lifting the lid and running her fingers over the ivory keys. She always felt at home seated at any piano. She had a nice one at home, it was a gift from her parents for her tenth birthday. Before that she could only play at Mr. Dohertyâ€™s house. He let her use it whenever he didnâ€™t have a lesson in session, but it was nothing like having her own she could play at any time.
Without realizing she had even started, Kaley found herself playing the song she wrote the previous night. It translated just as well from the guitar to the piano.
Iâ€™m standing in front of you,
My heart is in my hands,
But you just see right through me,
You donâ€™t even know Iâ€™m there.
You fill my every thought,
You are in my every dream,
I want to feel your arms around me,
But all you ever are is mean.
Why am I so invisible to you?
Why do you never see me?
Am I just that unlovable?
What can I do to make you see?
My heart breaks whenever youâ€™re near
Because I know youâ€™ll never be mine,
If only you could see who I am,
I know youâ€™d like me just fine.
Her fingers glided over the keys, not even needing the sheet music she had written. It was committed to memory, as were all the songs she ever wrote. They werenâ€™t coming from a songbook, they were coming from her heart. And that memory went on forever.
She heard a noise behind her and instantly stopped, closing the lid of the piano mid-verse. She turned around quickly to see who was there, fearing they had heard too much already. Her heart raced in her chest wishing she had never come there.
â€œWas that you?â€
â€œHarper, what are you doing here? I thought you were getting your uniform?â€
â€œI did. Now, Iâ€™m picking up my music. I left it here this morning,â€ she explained, while still dazed from the tune. â€œWas that really you playing just now?â€
Kaley wondered if she could lie her way out of it, but Harper wasnâ€™t stupid. She was the stupid one for playing her song at school, she should have a rule to only play in her bedroom. That was how it was always done, she should have known better. She decided to go with the truth, at least a scaled down version of it anyway.
â€œI was just playing around. Nobody was supposed to hear.â€
Harper sat on the piano stool next to her, opening the lid again. â€œPlay it again, it was beautiful. You never said you could play so well. That wasâ€¦ amazing.â€
â€œIt wasnâ€™t anything, really.â€ She closed the lid. â€œWe should get to class.â€
Kaley stood but Harper didnâ€™t budge, sitting there defiantly. â€œIâ€™m not leaving until you play it again. You know how stubborn I am.â€
â€œWell, I guess youâ€™ll just have to sit there forever then.â€ Kaley left the room, slowing her pace when she stepped into the corridor. She waited for Harper to catch up, knowing she would. She knew how stubborn Kaley was too.
True enough, Harper caught up to her only moments later. They walked to English class, Kaley refusing to answer any of the questions shot her way. Hopefully it wouldnâ€™t be too long before something else caught Harperâ€™s attention and she found another topic.
For the remainder of the day, and even the week, Kaley managed to avoid all talk of Eli and her music. She even managed to walk home with Harvey each day without the dance being mentioned.
She was on a roll.
Kaley decided not to wear the red dress again, nor any dress for that matter. While she felt good trying something new, it wasnâ€™t her. She wasnâ€™t the kind of girl who could wear dresses and be all girly. That was Harperâ€™s thing, not hers.
The days flew by, a whole two weeks before Kaley was dragged out of her comfort zone again and to another school event. It was the first home football game of the school year.
Not only would she have to suffer through all the school spirit, but also watch Eli for two hours. And Abigail, ugh, she would be with the cheerleaders on the sidelines reminding everyone how annoying they were. How Harper had convinced her to go was a mystery, she always knew when Kaley was at her weakest and unable to resist agreeing.
As she sat in the bleachers amongst every other student from her school, Kaley tried to act interested. She cheered when everyone else did and booed when the other team scored a point. For all intents and purposes, she had school spirit.
What was really holding her attention was Eli. He was the quarterback on the team and one of their star players. Kaley didnâ€™t know any of the rules on how to play the game, but he had the ball a lot and people cheered when he ran so she guessed he must be a really good player. He looked breathtaking while he did it, if that counted for anything.
Harper found her in the stands and waved from the sidelines. She was in her full band uniform, they actually sounded pretty good tonight. Considering they had spent three weeks practicing with nursery rhymes, she was amazed they could carry a regular tune. Perhaps the teacherâ€™s methods werenâ€™t completely crazy.
Before the game Harper had shown off her uniform, teasing Kaley that she too could be in one if she had joined the band. It wasnâ€™t exactly an incentive to sign up. They wore a uniform made out of thick fabric that barely breathed. It was described as royal blue but it was really the color of a dark blue as if it was caked in dust for ten years. The hats were the same horrible color. Needless to say, their budget was rock bottom.
When Harper turned back around and picked up her violin to play, Kaley searched the field for Eli. She had learned a few new things about him during the game. One was that he was slightly pigeon-toed, which was adorable.
Second, he had a habit of flicking his head to the left to get his fringe out of his eyes, but only when his helmet was off.
Thirdly, his blue eyes shone just as brightly when he was being tackled. It all made her want him even more.
During half-time, Kaley watched the band perform to keep her mind occupied. At least it signaled that the game was half over and she would be able to go home soon.
It was a nice night to be out and watching the game, but she would rather be doing something else. The only good thing was Eli. Her eyes wandered, looking for him on the sidelines. Both the players and the cheerleaders were taking a break while the band performed. Most of them sat on benches, drinking water and energy drinks.
Kaley recognized Eliâ€™s profile in the dimness of the light. She would recognize him anywhere now. He was having a discussion with someone just outside of her view. It looked pretty intense, almost like he was arguing with the person.
Kaley leaned closer to the girl next to her, pretending to reach something on the ground. It gave her that extra view she needed of the other person in the conversation.
When she saw who it was, she gasped. Quickly covering her slip, Kaley sat back upright. Eli was having an argument with Abigail. Dressed in her blue cheerleaderâ€™s outfit â€“ real royal blue, no hint of dusty covering â€“ she was waving her arms around and shaking her fists angrily.
If she was close enough to hear them, Kaley thought for sure they would probably be yelling. She wished she could read lips, she desperately wanted to know what they were saying to one another. They had to be arguing about something, she would have loved to have known about what.
She couldnâ€™t imagine Eli doing anything that would warrant a fight in the middle of the game, maybe it was her that had done something? That, Kaley could believe.
The band finished their set and let the cheerleaders have the field for their performance. Kaley watched as Abigail picked up her pompoms and joined them. When she walked, she stomped.
Eli took a seat on the bench and was handed a water bottle. He watched the cheerleaders, but Kaley figured he was probably only doing it out of duty. He probably didnâ€™t have any interest in seeing Abigail dance through the routine.
They cheered through four songs, dancing and jumping in the air to show their support for the team. Honestly, they probably didnâ€™t care at all about the football game, but they enjoyed the attention they received.
Everybody loved the cheerleading squad, everyone that wasnâ€™t invisible anyway. Once, when they just started high school, Harper had wanted to join the squad. She had dragged Kaley to try out and they performed a routine together. They were terrible, truly horrendous.
It was one of the most humiliating things she had ever been talked into doing. However, at least they failed together. It was after that when Kaley decided she wouldnâ€™t let Harper talk her into doing anything ever again. That resolve lasted a whole three days before the chess club was looking for new members and Harper wanted to join.
When Abigail left the field to wait by the sidelines, Eli didnâ€™t look her way. He didnâ€™t even seem to acknowledge her presence.
It made a smile spread across Kaleyâ€™s lips. She only felt a little bit guilty about enjoying Abigailâ€™s misery. Perhaps it was some karma coming her way, Kaley was certain she must have been owed some payback. The way Abigail tortured everyone around her was terrible, it couldnâ€™t go on forever without something coming back to bite her.
The whistle blew and the football team lined up on the field. The second half of the game seemed to go by quicker than the first. Eli continued to score points and had his hands on the ball for most of the game.
When the final bell sounded to signal full time, it was a clear win for the home team. The Sandyridge Stingrays had been triumphant in their debut on home turf. The crowds in the stands went wild, screaming and yelling for the team. The cheerleaders did the same while the band started up again.
Having never actually attended a game before, Kaley was unsure what happened afterwards. People around her seemed to be either leaving or yelling. She didnâ€™t really want to do either so she just sat there, hoping the answer would become apparent. Or Harper would find her so they could sneak off together.
In the meantime, she was content just to watch Eliâ€™s every move. He had received high fives, fist bumps, or slaps on the back from every guy on the team and anyone else who managed to get near him. He smiled so brightly that there was no hint of the earlier argument he had with Abigail.
Speaking of which, Kaley scanned through the crowds to try and locate her. She was with the cheerleaders but it didnâ€™t seem like her heart was in it. She never looked at Eli, not even once. Instead pretending something in the opposite direction was far more interesting.
It was intriguing to say the least.
The celebrations quickly died down when the team slipped into their dressing room. The bleachers started to empty, leaving Kaley to sit there alone. She looked around, wondering if she should go and wait for Harper at the school. But then, she might miss her. She stayed put, nobody was likely to notice her anyway.
Five minutes went past, and then ten. And then another two before Harper finally appeared in the stands. She waved her down.
â€œGreat job out there, Harper. Almost made me wish I had joined the band.â€
â€œReally? Thanks. Stupid Stuart kept stepping on my foot and Brady didnâ€™t leave me enough room for my bow, but I think it was otherwise okay. We really didnâ€™t suck?â€ She was talking super fast and trying to catch her breath, the adrenaline starting to slow down for the night.
â€œYou didnâ€™t suck,â€ Kaley laughed. She was so happy she didnâ€™t cave and sign up for the band. It was much more fun watching them. They werenâ€™t exactly the best band in the world, very far from it. However that only added to the entertainment value.
They started heading for the parking lot where Harperâ€™s dad would be waiting for them. He always watched the schoolâ€™s games, even if Harper wasnâ€™t playing in the band.
He had grown up in Sandyridge and attended the same school. He was a quarterback, just like Eli. Kaley guessed he liked to relive the olden days by watching the current team play. It meant a free ride so she didnâ€™t question it.
â€œThereâ€™s a party at Maraâ€™s house,â€ Harper said excitedly as they walked. â€œNobody told me not to come, so I think we should go. My dad can drop us off there.â€
â€œYour father is going to let you go to a party?â€
â€œItâ€™s Friday night and he knows Iâ€™m trustworthy. How can he say no?â€
Kaley could think of many reasons how he could say no. She didnâ€™t want to admit it, but she was kind of on his side. It had been a long day, she didnâ€™t really feel like going to some stupid party where nobody would talk to her.
Sheâ€™d been dragged to them before and they always ended the same â€“ sneaking out and calling her mom for a ride home.
â€œItâ€™s going to be amazing, youâ€™ll see,â€ Harper reassured her. â€œYouâ€™re going to thank me for getting us invited.â€
â€œWe werenâ€™t invited, you werenâ€™t banned. Thereâ€™s a difference there, Harper. Mara probably doesnâ€™t even know who we are.â€
Harper just shook her head, refusing to listen.
They found Mr. Monroe waiting in his car. He was wearing his old letterman jacket from high school, it was a bit sad.
Kaley had no idea how she did it, but Harper managed to convince her father to drop them off at Maraâ€™s party. It happened so fast Kaley didnâ€™t even have time to add in her opinion. They were in the car and driving down the road in no time, a satisfied look on her friendâ€™s face.
Maraâ€™s house was easy to find, it was the only one playing loud music and had teenagers spilling from the door. Her poor neighbors, Kaley thought to herself.
She was suddenly glad Harvey wasnâ€™t popular enough to throw parties or she could have been one of those poor neighbors. She wondered what he was up to tonight, she didnâ€™t see him at the game. He was most probably at home, wondering the same about her.
She was rarely out at night.
Mr. Monroeâ€™s car sped away, leaving them on the curb. Kaley watched it go, wishing she was in it. The thought of turning around and entering the party was frightening.
The only good thing was she probably would go unnoticed. She could find something to drink, holding it in her hand and using it as an excuse not to be dancing. She never really drank anything alcoholic, but if she held it, then nobody would bother her to â€˜lighten upâ€™.
â€œCome on, this is going to be so great.â€ Harper grabbed her arm and dragged her away to her doom.
Inside was even worse than outside. The loud music vibrated through her body like a sonic boom and hundreds of bodies writhed around her in time to the beat.
Three times, random arms and legs hit Kaley as Harper dragged her through the crowd. Her grip was so tight there was no chance she could slip away â€“ which was probably the point.
They eventually made their way through the crowd and into another room. When Kaley looked up and around, she saw they were in the kitchen. People sat on the benches, a couple were making out on the table, and dozens of bottles of alcohol littered the remaining spaces. Harper poured two drinks from a keg into red Solo cups and handed her one. She took a sip, it was beer.
â€œIâ€™m gonna go dance, come with me,â€ Harper yelled through the noise. At least, thatâ€™s what it sounded like. She downed her drink and dragged Kaley back out again. Finding a spare table for her drink, Kaley put it down without drinking any more than the initial sip.
The living room, which was now the dance floor, was packed tightly with people. Harper immediately started shaking her booty. Whether it was her time in the band or whether it came naturally, she was actually a pretty good dancer. She didnâ€™t look like she was having a seizure when she waved her hands around or moved her hips.
Kaley, on the other hand, thought for sure she looked like a crazy person. She didnâ€™t like dancing in front of others, she felt too self-conscious. Inside her bedroom was fine, but out in public didnâ€™t feel right. She moved her hips side to side in time to the music but that was about all she could do.
â€œItâ€™s hot, Iâ€™m going to get a drink,â€ Kaley yelled. Harper nodded and turned around to dance with the person beside her â€“ a guy Kaley knew only as Birdy. He was tall and lanky with a big nose, there were no prizes for guessing how he had earned his nickname.
Kaley returned to the kitchen and found some water in the refrigerator. She poured some into a plastic cup and drank, not realizing how thirsty she had been.
Standing in amongst the chaos, it was like being in another world. There were people everywhere, each lost in their own world. Small groups of people were dotted around, yelling to each other to be heard but still laughing at everything that was said.
Couples were pressed into private spaces â€“ like against walls â€“ and passionately making out oblivious to anyone else.
Others rushed through the house, drink in one hand and the alcohol in their veins making the bad decisions for them. It would have been fascinating to watch, if they didnâ€™t keep running into her on the way through.
Kaley found a wall to lean against, more out of the way than her previous watching post. She looked at everyone around her and felt completely cut off from them all.
She didnâ€™t feel like them, she didnâ€™t know how to be like them. She couldnâ€™t just switch off all her sensibilities and inhibitions like they seemed to be able to. She wished she could, it would make being dragged to parties something to look forward to instead of dreading.
She was lost in her thoughts and didnâ€™t see the guy coming toward her. He ran straight into her side. By the time she felt the cold drink running down her top, he was already hurrying away again without even muttering an apology. Yep, completely invisible, Kaley thought to herself.
She could smell the beer, it had soaked right through into her bra. She went looking for a bathroom to try and at least mop some of it up. She didnâ€™t particularly want to go home reeking of alcohol. She hadnâ€™t done it before, who knew how her parents would react.
The bathroom was upstairs, Kaley had to open four doors to find it. Behind each door held a horrible surprise behind it, like it was a terrifying game show. Couples were making out, groups of people were smoking something interesting smelling, and behind one there was a handful of people doing god knows what.
Finding the bathroom was a huge relief, Kaley was just about to give up and go outside to use the hose.
She stepped inside and locked the door, not wanting anyone to walk in on her unexpectedly. She wasnâ€™t exactly overindulged in the chest region, but it wasnâ€™t like she wanted anyone to get a free show.
She took off her top and dabbed at it with tissues. It only seemed to make the stain even worse. She went searching through the cupboards for something that might help and found a hairdryer. It would probably take forever, but it would eventually dry the beer and water mixture. She plugged it in and waved the hot air over her top.
There was a constant stream of knocking on the door. At times it was accompanied by a yell to hurry up too. Kaley waved the hairdryer quicker, wishing it would work faster.
When her top was half-way dry, she decided it would have to do. At least her bra was kind of dry, it was bearable anyway. She slipped the top back on and left, trying to ignore the looks from the queue waiting outside.
The thought of rejoining the party was too much. She was tired and the crowds were starting to really annoy her. She considered her options.
Mr. Monroe said he would be back to pick them up at midnight, that was still an hour away. She could call her parents but that would mean she had to tell them where she was. Her other option was to walk home but that wouldnâ€™t be the safest choice. Mother Barbie would probably be angrier if she walked than had to come pick her up.
Needing to get some fresh air, Kaley left through the front door. She needed to speak with Harper before she decided what to do so she sat on the porch steps and started texting. She asked Harper to come outside for a minute. She sent it but didnâ€™t expect a fast response, she doubted whether Harper would be able to hear the message alert in all the noise.
It wasnâ€™t too bad sitting on the porch steps. She had closed the door behind her so the music was just a background din. All the people that had spilled onto the lawn when they first arrived had disappeared.
The stars in the sky were bright and twinkling and it was still quite warm. She leaned against the post and waited, thinking she could probably sit there for an hour until Mr. Monroe arrived to take them home.
The door opened behind her, sending a wave of music her way. She didnâ€™t turn to see who it was, silently hoping it was Harper. She felt someone sit on the other side of the porch steps, but they didnâ€™t speak. She assumed it must be Harper, probably a bit out of it from the heat and drink inside.
â€œI didnâ€™t think youâ€™d get my message so quickly,â€ Kaley said, expecting to hear something slurred in response.
Kaley turned quickly, the voice hadnâ€™t belonged to her best friend. It was male and definitely one she recognized as belonging to Eli. She could feel her face blush, thankful for the darkness of the porch.
â€œI, uh, thought you were someone else.â€
â€œSorry to disappoint you.â€
â€œNo, you didnâ€™t. Itâ€™s okay.â€ She was stumbling over her words, she scolded herself for it. She should be making a good impression, trying to be witty and intelligent, not a babbling fool.
Eli laughed, his cute little laugh â€“ the one that made her stomach flip out with a thousand butterflies. She stole a glance at him, his face was illuminated by the moonlight. His eyes still sparkled even in the dimness and his smile was bright enough to light a million candles.
He was gorgeous, rock star gorgeous.
No, that wasnâ€™t even it. He looked like the product of a supermodel mother and an underwear model father.
* * *