Wax by Eric Z.

It was the day after the Paris bombings, or at least, I think it was. I wouldn’t remember much of it anyway; I was so disillusioned by the fact that I just got a B on my Honors Pre-Calc test that I didn’t give a damn about anything else. It was January, no February, I don’t know actually. I just remembered that I thought my life was falling apart all around me, and I couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
Wax
Wax by Eric Z.
I mean, come on, why would I care about Paris when it was a couple thousand miles and an entire ocean away from me? But my grades though, my grades were everything. College was right around the goddamn corner, and I was scared almost out of my mind. Failing that stupid test meant that I had to get a 93.7 on the next one in order to keep my A, and if I kept my A I could have a 4.83 GPA, and if I got my 4.83 GPA I could go to a decent enough college like UCLA or Princeton. I wasn’t good enough for Stanford or Harvard, because that was what my grades told me, and so I guess Princeton would have to do. It was rainy. Cold, and absolutely miserable and dreary. The sky was split asunder by dark gray clouds and gloomy drafts of cold bitter air. It looked like the grungy act of a 1960s movie, or something bizarre like that. And I secretly liked it. The school bell rang like the screeching of a demon from hell, and it was one of the most agonizing noises I’ve ever heard. I swear, the only other time I get even this closed to kicking something is in the morning, when the alarm clock wakes me up for school. And school, oh man school. School was so freaking stupid, but I had to like it because it was my only way into college which was also my only way into a good career and random stuff like that. I dunno man; I guess it was just something everyone likes. I was in Pre-Calc at the time, and Mr. Guesk, the teacher, was a friendly ole chap. He was real nice for a man of his age, and was probably what you usually think of when the word ‘teacher’ comes to mind, all friendly and all. The receding hairline, along with the polo shirt, and the slacks and nice dress shoes only added to his image. His room was even worse, I think. Beige everywhere. I hated beige. It was as if some idiot decided to mix white and caramel and got an ugly color, but instead of discarding it, I guess they wanted to own something and decided to name the freaking thing an actual color. Beige. I even hated the goddamn name. Anyways, the chap called me into his class, sat me down in front of him with a sort of odd expression on his face and talked. There was an odd twinkle in his eyes, which kinda drove me crazy ‘cause sometimes I just wanted him to be a regular teacher but other times, I loved the way he articulated things and had little talks about life and all. “So Merci, I see that you got a B on your last test?” His voice was low, deeply tuned like the cello in an underground symphonic orchestra. “Mhm,” I replied, thinking about the stupid grades and stupid school and the stupid math class. Honestly, I didn’t even like math, I just liked the class because Mr. Guesk made the damn thing sorta fun. I guess he realized that I wasn’t paying much attention to him or whatever, because he said my full name. “Mercedes, please. I understand that you’ve never gotten a B on a test in your entire high school career? I just wanted to tell you that it’s ok to fall sometimes.” That got me angry, and I didn’t even know why. Heat pooled in my stomach as my throat churned with red. “No it’s not!” I snapped at him, mouth contorting dangerously. “If I don’t have a 4.83 GPA I won’t get into a good college, and that’s the end of my life.” It might’ve been a trick of the light, but Mr. Guesk looked awfully sad right then and there. His expressions curled back like a kicked puppy, but it was almost as if he felt sorry for me. That made me angrier, and I suddenly didn’t know why I even liked him as a teacher. “Look, can I go now?” Frost crept through the cracks of my lips as I glared at the ground or rather, nowhere in particular. I can’t explain it, I just felt so freaking mad. It was like he was telling me that all my life would amount to nothing. That’s not true, I told myself. That’s not true at all. He’s just an old fart who got stuck as a teacher, making a salary of only $50,000 dollars a year. That won’t be me, I vowed. My name would be known across the world, and I’ll be rich and famous through school and studies and get to a good college because… I dunno actually, but I just knew that I had to become rich and famous because everyone wanted to be rich and famous I guess. I stalked out of his room with his sad, old eyes entranced on my back. I pulled the tight strings of my gray sweater in tighter, and pulled on a pair of knitted fingerless gloves. It was a cold day, I thought to myself as I stepped out of the K building, where all math related classes were held. The blue gate in the math building loomed above me as I stepped under it, and out into the school yard. Woodbridge High School. I think the first impression that I ever had of this place since I moved here a year ago, was that it looked like something out of a school poster boy magazine. It was obnoxiously bright red and gold, and everyone wore bright red and gold and all the buildings were bright red and gold. I hated bright red and gold, even though I think I was supposed to like it or something, as everyone here wore it. And enter Nick. Yeah. And he also wore red and gold. “Hey dude, how’d do you on that math test?” He knew exactly how I did on my math test. Nick Patel was this Indian bloke who I would call my friend, I guess. He stuck to the same dress code over and over again, as if his body just couldn’t wear anything other than a bright red polo shirt with a number on the sleeve, nice khakis that sorta resembled a pale gold, and crimson running shoes. Sometimes, when he decides to get really wild with his clothes, he puts on a suit over the polo, and wears that to school nonchalantly, but you know he’s trying to show it off because his usual dialogue is something along the lines of: “Oh this? Yeah I wear this everyday like casually and stuff.” Anyways. “I got a B.” “Oh that sucks dude.” A sort of empathy entered his voice. “You know if you get any more B’s you’re gonna be fucked right?” I grumbled and nodded. “Yeah whatever, let’s just go meet up with the others and grab some food or something.” It was a Friday afternoon, and even though Friday’s were supposed to be sunny, it really wasn’t. Gray clouds filled the sky like cigarette flavored cotton candy, and the occasional rumble of thunder serenaded the day quite perfectly, in my opinion. Blankets of rain fell slowly around us as we made our way through the almost empty schoolyard, and to his lockers, which was our usual meeting spot. As we got closer to the little canopy that sheltered the row of lockers, I could see the rest of the people I hung out with. Thor. Andrew. Claudia. Aileen. Dick. Mason. I guess you could call them my friends. We were considered the overachievers of the school, but who doesn’t want to get into a good college for engineering? I mean, art’s so useless anyways. “Sup bruvs,” I muttered as I stepped into the little circle of humans. Body heat encircled the air, and I relaxed a little. “Still wearing black and gray?” That was Thor. “Yeah.” “You know someday you’re gonna get stopped by the principal right? I mean, everyone wears red and gold. Why don’t you just freaking do it?” “I dunno. Don’t feel like it.” I already felt worse for wear. “Listen guys, let’s just get some food yeah? We should stop picking on him.” That was Aileen. She was the only one I was kinda close to in the group, and she was pretty cute I guess. She had a nice chest, and long skinny legs that matched her torso. Basically, she was a pretty fit bird. Obviously, you weren’t supposed to care about personality, because no one did, so it’s all about physical appearance. Anyways, I think everyone in the group has had a little crush on her sometime. But because it was “bros before hoes”, no one really made a move. Either that or we were all scared to. But I think we knew that we had to make the move, because according to the movies, all the guys had to make the first move. In my heart, I thought it was a really stupid rule, but I just went along with it because I had nothing better to do. “Thanks Aileen.” Frosty breaths of steam escaped my parched lips as we climbed under the bridge at the south entrance to the school. We were heading to Wing Stop, which was our usual spot, as it was next to LA Fitness. We had this routine where all the guys went to LA Fitness after we ate, because it was apparently fun to go to the gym, and all the girls would come to watch. I guess I liked it, because according to Nick and my parents as well all boys had to work out and build muscle. I dunno, I was never really a fanatic about it like Nick or Mason or Dick, but I forced myself to think it’s cool. Wing Stop was located on this little alley way in the middle of a large mall, and it served hot wings and fries and stuff. It was kinda good, I guess, and I usually got their little 11 wing combo or whatever. The shop itself was colored beige, which I hated, and it had a couple of tables outside where all the artists and songwriters sat. Our group didn’t really associate with them, because we knew that they were stupid and unrealistic and probably not going to a good college. I lifted my gaze to the outside tables for a brief second, and my gaze lingered on them for a brief second. There were a couple people there, like 2 to be exact. The first was dressed in black from head to toe, with a hood up, and he looked vaguely familiar. The other was a girl, who looked like she had a face straight out of a magazine, and she was dressed like a girl out of time. It was like she was still stuck in the 1950’s, with a skirt and high socks and converse. A light pink color, almost a shade of periwinkle, adorned her torso. “Hey. It’s your turn to order.” Aileen again, her voice snapped me out of my entranced gaze. “Oh. Oh sorry.” I muttered as I stepped up to the counter to get my food. I literally got the same thing every time I got here, I realized with a start after I finished ordering, and so did everyone else. It was always 11 wings with fries and a drink and a side dip of ranch. We sat down in the middle of the little wing shack, and settled down noisily. The cacophony of backpacks hitting the ground, and zippers zipping and unzipping was kinda unbearable. I shoved my hands deeper into my light gray sweater, and blinked a couple of times to clear the dust inside my eyes. “What do you guys wanna do after this?” That was Dick. Dick was an odd bloke from Vietnam, I think, and he was tall as hell. He practically rose above the rest of the group like the Eiffel tower in Paris, and he always had this smug or cocky smile. I had never told him this, but I’ve always wanted to wipe it off. I shrugged in response to the question, as I knew someone would respond sooner or later. “The gym of course. I need to keep working on my biceps.” That was Nick. “I need to work on my abs, almost got that 6 pack.” Mason. “I need to work on my back, and my abs.” Andrew. “Arms.” Thor. I guess it was my turn or something, because they all looked expectantly at me. I felt kinda depressed again, for some reason. “Ask Aileen or Claudia.” Nick looked at me like I was crazy, which I might’ve been. “They’re girls.” He stressed the word girls as if it was a curse word or something. “They don’t work out.” Mason added, and then continued with a sort of concerned expression on his face. “You okay?” A punch was thrown at him. “Ha! Gaaaaaay! If you care about him as much as that you might as well marry him!” I got even more depressed, but I pretended to laugh along with the group. When their stupid laughing bout was over, they once again turned to me expectantly. Only this time, I realized that Aileen and Claudia looked distinctly uncomfortable. “I’ll work on cardio.” I muttered under my breath as I shoved a piece of lukewarm chicken inside my mouth with a fork, and chewed as quietly as I can. Nick grumbled and shook his head. “I swear I’ll never understand you Mercedes. You know going to the gym is your chance to get swoll and get pussy later on right? I mean, what girl likes a 130 pound skinny sack of skin and bones?” I knew I probably should’ve gotten angry, but I was just so tired of everything. “Whatever man.” “No! I’m serious! Are you a guy or not?!” “Hm.” “Then act like it! Fucking work out and get laid already! You’re not turning into those retarded song writers and artsy people are you? You know those people are good for nothing in the end don’t you?!” I clenched my fist under the table as I continued to listen to him rant. It was true; I was about 130 pounds and 5’11, which meant I was skinny as a stick. I guess maybe I do need to work out or something, I thought to myself. “Got it cap.” “Jesus! Finally! I was scared you were gonna become useless for a second there.” “Yeah.” I finally looked up from my food, hoping to see something, anything on the other’s expressions. I guess I shouldn’t have been more disappointed than I was, because I should’ve known they all agreed with Nick. Everyone agreed with Nick, and by everyone I don’t mean just our little group. I meant the world, television, magazines, TV shows, all of them. “All right man, whatever. Let’s go work out then!” I injected a bit of energy and enthusiasm into my voice, to try to feel better about myself. Mason nodded approvingly. “There’s the spirit!” We grabbed our stuff, and headed over to the big hulking building that was the gym, almost as if it was trying to compensate for something. I did the little running machines, and everyone else split off into their little groups, with the girls giggling and pointing and the guys huffing and puffing. In the end, only Dick ended up next to me. In the past year that I’ve known him, I still dunno if Dick was his real name, or a nickname. I’ve always assumed that it was a nickname, but now I’m not even sure anymore. “Hey dude.” I grunted at him as I turned up the obnoxiously loud and horrific rapping of the only things on Spotify recently. I grimaced at the number of cuss words and unnecessary racial slurs into their songs, but could only bear it because that’s what I was expected to listen it. I guess I had to like it because every guy liked it. I mean, we couldn’t like music like Taylor Swift because that was only for girls. I guess. “How many bitches did you score in the last month?” The group had a little game, where the guys would see how many girls they could try to get in bed with every month or so, because it was the cool and popular thing to do. I never really joined them in on it, and I didn’t think I would ever because their stupid game made me kinda angry as well. “Hm?” “I said,” Dick panted next to me as he took off his shirt to show off his 4 pack to a couple of girls who were standing in the corner. “How many bitches did you sleep with in the past month?” I groaned internally, as my attempt at a change of subject didn’t work. I also didn’t want to see his man nipples shine in all their “masculine” glory. “None.” Dick laughed, “That’s pathetic man. You at least should get one! I mean, no homo or anything because I’m not like those gays, but I think you could get some hot chicks if you really tried.” I patted my ears, and tried to make the horrifying music go away as I ran in place. I hated how he used the words “no homo”, as if giving a compliment to a friend suddenly turned into a game of sexuality preferences and crude sarcasm. “Yeah. Thanks.” I tried to run by myself in peace, but then Dick opened his mouth again. “You wanna know how many I fucked?” I almost groaned out loud this time. “Sure Dick.” I decided to humor him by silently flipping him off secretly. You know? The thing where you pretend to push up your glasses with your middle finger. The guy didn’t even notice. “Ok, so last night, I took this sophomore chick to my beach house, and we had such a great time. She had all the things you’d look for in a girl you know? A nice vagina, nice legs, chest, all of that.” I glared silently at nothing in particular. That both pissed me off and depressed me to no end. “Nice.” Later that day, when the entire group split up to go home. I decided I would talk to Aileen, and ask her if she wanted to hang out. I secretly harbored a tiny crush on her for the past couple of months, and I thought it might be cool with the others if I asked her out on a little tiny date. She was special, you know? Like not special to me, as in those chick flick romance movies, but special as in she seemed different from the rest. I had hoped that she might’ve been like me. And that was something I admired greatly. And, the fact that she was also pretty cute wasn’t a bad factor either. “Hey,” I spoke up after it was just the two of us. The sky above us had turned as pitch black as a nightmare, as it was probably already 10 o clock. We had finished our usual dinner of Philly’s, because it was the only food we could get near there aside from Wing Stop. You couldn’t even see the stars that night, as rain still splashed across the sky like a gray tipped paint brush. It was a beautiful night, and the rain was my version of liquid courage. “Yeah?” She brushed her lovely hair behind her ears. “I was wondering if you wanted to hang out next tomorrow?” My neck felt incredibly hot as I must’ve looked like a walking bottle of ketchup. Aileen looked up with a confused expression. “Merci, are you feeling all right? We always hang out on Saturdays after homework.” “No,” I stuttered out, “I-I-I mean, do you want to hang out just the two of us?” “Umm,” She fixed her eyes on me, the color of viridian sea foam. “All right I guess. Where?” “How about, Chipotle? So we can get chipot-laid?” Aileen laughed at the pickup line Mason told me to say on any girls I met. “Okay. Okay sure. Sounds good. Sounds great.” Wow, I thought to myself. I didn’t know that pickup lines actually worked. I knew that everybody used ‘em but I never actually asked anyone out on a date with one before, and it was the strangest experience. It felt wrong, but I mean it worked in a way so I didn’t question it. I gave her a half smile, when in the inside I was incredibly excited and nervous and every other possible combination of energetic emotion there was. I knew that guys weren’t supposed to show emotion or whatever, so I didn’t do anything crazy. “I’ll see you tomorrow?” “Yeah.” “Okay.” “Okay.” I grabbed my bike, and pushed off into the night. I lived incredibly close to the school, and it was only a 7 minute bike if I went my fastest speed. I had a road bike, because it was cool and popular to have one so I begged my parents for one and they agreed on the account that I got all A’s in all my classes. But it was actually really pathetic that I still had a bike, because everybody else had cars. Everyone in the group had the newest version of the Toyota, or some other brands that I haven’t even heard of before. I think that’s really bad because apparently guys had to know all the coolest of sports cars and the fastest of all car models, and if you didn’t know one you were supposed to kill yourself or something stupid like that. Night drafts whipped past my face as I turned on Woodhollow drive, and onto my street, Primrose Drive. Within a few seconds, I could see the rough outline of my father’s Lexus RX 350. He made me memorize that to show it off to my friends, or something like that. It seemed like the normal Friday night, with the exception of the sound of the pitter patter of rain as it kissed the rough cement ground. Most people liked sunny weather, or nice and cloudless. But for some reason, I was always obsessed with the rain and thunder. Suddenly, I heard the sound of hard wood slap against concrete. My head whipped around as soon as I saw a pair of feet touch the ground. I could see the outline of a person walking under a street light. And as I looked closer, I could make out she held a skateboard in her arms. It was a skater chick. The skater chick stopped, stared at me in a confused manner, before starting on her way right towards me. I watched, entranced, as her hair fluttered in the wind like silken drapes. The girl flipped the board, and twisted her body. It was like a dance, as the board moved with perfect harmony with the girl. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. I didn’t realize that she came to the house a couple away from mine, which had been empty for almost a month now, until the she called out to me. “Hey dude!” My head snapped up from my entranced state. “Uh, hey. Hi. How’s it going?” I knew I was supposed to be polite. The girl laughed, her voice sounded like twinkling drops of crystals. She came into the streetlight light, and I finally saw her face for the first time. With a start, I realized she was one of the people sitting outside Wing Stop. But then, I realized, she must be one of the artist people. With a mumble of disappointment, I started to turn back towards my own house. My parents and the group have all indirectly told me that the artist people are bad because they don’t make any money in the future when they grow up. My parents especially, told me that singers and songwriters didn’t contribute to society because they were useless, so I stuck to computer programming and math and science. “Where you going?” “Inside.” I called out in disappointment. “Oh come on! It’s a good night! Do you wanna skate with me?” I stopped in my tracks as I realized what she had said. “But it’s raining?” “So? That’s what makes it fun!” She replied, a smile spilling into her voice. That made me kinda happy, for some unknown reason. I told myself that I pretty much had no homework whatsoever, and I’ve always wanted to see how these artist people operated, and that was the only reason why I bothered in the first place. Fuck it, I thought. “Yeah. Yeah okay. I’ll be right out.” I stashed my bike inside the brightly illuminated and extremely organized garage, where everything was so freaking color coded and neat. With an umbrella in my hand, I headed out. I met her, a complete stranger, under the dimly lit street light with a half grin on my face. I loved the pitter patter of rain against the protective shade of the umbrella, it was one of the most soothing sounds that ever existed, I thought to myself. Suddenly, my umbrella was yanked out of my hands by an unseen force. “Hey!” I cried out in protest, as the girl outta time took my umbrella and threw it behind some bushes. “What’d you do that for?” “Well now you can enjoy the rain, duh dummy!” She said with that twinkling laugh that was so maddening. I was about to protest again before I realized that she was totally right. I felt the army of rain tickle the back of my neck, and felt the lone soldiers of water slide down my temple. And it felt… really good. “What’s your name?” “Huh?” I was snapped out of my stupor once again. “What’s your name dude?” She asked again, laughing at my little moment. “Uh, it’s Merci.” “Oh wow! That’s really cool! My name’s Claire, Claire Dean! How’s it going?” “That’s… nice. How do you do?” I replied, still knowing that I was supposed to be polite. “So Merci, does that stand for something?” She rolled my name around in her mouth like a new type of lollipop, trying to get the hang of it. “Uh yeah. It’s short for Mercedes.” I cringed, and grimaced for her response. Whenever I tell anyone my full name, they just make fun of it. It’s probably because I was named after a car, or whatever, and I guess liking cars were cool, but having an irregular name wasn’t. Especially the group, they sometimes called me Mercedes to annoy me, all but Aileen. “Woah! That’s super cool!” Claire responded with enthusiasm. I was startled. “Super… cool?” I asked, no one had ever called my name cool before. It had always been weird or Benz. “Yeah! Like the villa in France right?” I was even more surprised now. I had no idea that my namesake was a villa in France, although, I’m glad there was a villa in France that was my namesake because I was always obsessed with Paris. “That’s… right.” I broke through 2 layers that night. “Anyways, come on, let’s skate!” Claire pulled me along and dragged me on top of the wooden plank of death. “All right. Let’s see what you got.” I looked at her questioningly. “What do you mean?” “Well you know, skate.” “Oh. OH.” I felt incredibly stupid and awkward for a second there, and I blushed. “Um, I don’t know how to.” Nick would’ve made fun of me, so would Dick. And Mason and Thor and Andrew and Claudia. I don’t think Aileen would’ve. “Well, let’s fix that.” Claire taught me how to Ollie that night. Basically, you stomp your back foot on the tail of the board and drag your front foot up to make it level up and jump. And then, your board basically comes up with you. I felt like I was a pioneer, or someone really important like that, and it both fascinated and scared the hell outta me. “So, what kinda music do you listen to?” Claire asked me as she guided me through the steps of a rolling Ollie. I grimaced at the question. “I like rap and hip hop.” I lied through my teeth. In reality, and this was something I didn’t even tell the group, I liked this really weird alternative band called The 1975 because they were really counterculture-esque. Sometimes, I dreamed about stuff, and The 1975 sang about the same stuff. They were just real about everything you know? They were real about life. They were real about love. They were real about the system, and maybe that’s why I like them so much. “Ew!” Claire laughed and crinkled her nose. “I mean good for you man, but I hate rap.” She chuckled. I nodded as I tried the rolling Ollie again. “So what type of music do you like?” “The 1975!” She exclaimed with a large grin on her face. I blanched, as I tried to keep my thoughts coherent. “You like The 1975?” I felt like the world had been pulled out under my feet. There was another. “Yeah! I really like their new song, This Must Be My Dream, it’s super real you know? Wait do you like them too?” I nodded wordlessly, and I guess she could see the shock just rolling around on my face. I was absolutely floored. “I thought all guys liked rap and all girls liked soft songs.” I stammered out in shock. “Excuse me?” Claire looked kinda pissed all of a sudden. I don’t think I understood the weight of my words or theirs at that particular moment. I think that I was just so disillusioned and shocked with the weight of my discoveries, that I didn’t even know what I was saying. “Nothing! I just meant! I mean… never mind. I think I have to go home now. I’ll see you some other time.” I turned and almost sprinted into my house. A skater chick, who was also an artist, and she liked The 1975 as well, the importance of the moment didn’t dawn upon me until much, much later. But for some reason, I couldn’t get the scent of roses out of my nose. Anyways, I knew skating which was seen as a sort of crime in the Woodbridge community because the skaters always waxed the curbs and made everything super slippery. Maybe this was why my parents told me to stay away from artists and songwriters, I told myself silently. As soon as I got inside the beige colored house, I suddenly heard the screeching of my brother’s and my parent’s voices. It was an argument, again. “How come you only have a 3.8 GPA? Why aren’t you more like your brother?!” That was my mother, and she sounded pissed. I crept inside silently, and opened the door to the living room as softly as I could to observe the absolutely tragic scene. My brother, Cyrus, was standing against a wall and boy did he look pissed as well. “So what? I don’t wanna be stuck in an office when I grow up and havta look at numbers all day!” “Are you saying you want to become an artist? Are you saying you want to be poor and useless to society?” My father this time, and his voice had gained a deadly steel. “Maybe I do! Maybe I don’t fucking care anymore!” “Watch your mouth!” “I’m going to my room!” The 14 year old stormed off, yanking himself out of my mother’s grip. I felt bad for the kid, I mean, he had never been the diamond in the rough my parents expected, and whereas I was always the valedictorian or the highest achiever, my brother cared more about his games than anything. We were almost the exact opposites of each other, and so I wasn’t really close to him, or at least I haven’t been for 3 years. We didn’t fight a lot, we just never really talked. But today, I decided it would probably be good to talk to him. “Cyrus. “ I whispered as I crept upstairs and into his room. “Are you okay?” The kid already had a League of Legends tab open, and was queuing up for a game. “What do you care?” He responded with a grunt. “Go study or something.” “Come on Cyrus, talk to me.” He paused his queue. “Why do you care all of a sudden?” He asked with a raised eyebrow. I didn’t know the answer to the question. I actually wondered that myself, but I didn’t tell him that. Instead, I told him that I just wanted to talk and watch him play. It had been a while, maybe a couple years, since we had last played together, actually. I had been too preoccupied with school work and extracurricular activities to give a damn about his childish games, but that day I decided to humor him. “Okay…” He said hesitantly, and logged into a game. “So what rank are you anyway?” Cyrus scoffed, “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.” I knew a bit about League to make a reference. “Why, you Bronze?” I teased. In League, there were ranks and it went from Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Master, and Challenger, with Bronze being the lowest and Challenger being the highest. The kid scoffed again, “Please, don’t compare me with those scrubs. I’m challenger rank 51.” My jaw dropped. “Excuse me?!” I thundered. Being challenger 51 meant he was ranked #51 out of 2 million players in North America. I had no idea my little 14 year old brother was good enough to go pro. “Shaddap!” The kid whispered back impatiently, “I’m supposed to be sulking right now. Plus it’s not like you care anyways, you have your oh so very important school career to worry about.” I grimaced at that. “Come on Cyrus, don’t be like that.” Boy did he get pissed. “Don’t be like what? You don’t even fucking know me and I’m your own brother. All you ever wanted was to be good at school, and great fucking job you did it! Does it feel good? Huh? Huh?!” I didn’t reply. It was true, ever since I was younger I was always the one my parents paid more attention to, because I was the one with the good grades. I was the one who they favored because the letter A defined me more than my brother, who was characterized by a B+. When I was little, I would insult the kid and call him a B+ adopted kid, because he wasn’t good enough to fit into our family, or as I thought so back then. Over time though, the letter grades and the school, I mean, what do they even mean man? The letter A doesn’t even stand for anything, like it doesn’t even stand for a single word. It’s just a freaking letter. And it wasn’t like there was a difference between an A or a B either. It was as if numbers defined as in this damned world, where 3.8 and 4.33 were the scum of the earth, and 4.5 and above were the people who were role models. It wasn’t like they had personalities, or actual souls- no, they were just numbers- I was just a number. And that made me really fucking depressed. Jesus, now I probably sound like one of those old hippies who want nothing but world peace and free love. I’ve more important things to worry about anyway, I told myself convincingly, like good grades and college and all that jazz. But in the back of my mind, I couldn’t shake that incredible feeling of guilt and something else- something that made me feel all wrong. Whatever, I needed to focus on the date with Aileen tomorrow anyways. Chapter 2 The next day was super sunny and hot, and it was really weird. El Nino or whatever it’s called was happening this year, so the weather was super bipolar and stuff. My usual Saturdays usually went a little something like this. Brush teeth, shower, eat, homework, eat, homework, rest, homework, hang out with the group. However, that Saturday wasn’t the usual Saturday because I realized that later that day, I had a date. It would be my first date, but it was a date nonetheless. I practically breezed through my homework, as my excitement gave me the jitters and I couldn’t concentrate on anything for long durations of time. The thing with dates is that it’s supposed to be a rite of passage for a guy, or at least that’s what Nick and Dick told me. Because apparently, if you didn’t pay and hold hands and put your arm around the girl, you’re not a real man. I guess I wasn’t a real man, or something, because I had no idea what any of those meant, or had any clue on how to do them at all. But the way I figured, since she was special and wasn’t like the rest, we would get along just fine. Night came quick, and it was quicker than expected. It wasn’t raining anymore, and the weather still seemed extremely bipolar. The sky blazed with an iridescent shade of orange, and I hated orange. The color was so obnoxious, and it was just so… Orange. I hate orange the color and I hated the fruit as well, which is apparently extremely weird and abnormal because everyone who lived down in Irvine liked oranges. I mean, we lived in a county called Orange County, where everybody was cheerful and safe and had a bright future ahead of them, excluding the artists. Anyway, I messed up my brother’s hair fondly as I walked out the door, causing him to give me a strange look as he played League. I recognized some of the people that he played with, and they were all big time pros or big time streamers/ Youtubers. And that fact alone, the fact that my brother might be an artist, both scared and excited me. Ever since I was young, I’ve always liked dreaming. I dreamt of possibilities, of fractured universes and different lives. And many of my dreams were filled with either different worlds or realities in which I was an artist myself. And I kept these secret, away from everyone. I secretly wondered if she did too. We were supposed to meet up at Chipotle, because everyone always met up at Chipotle. I was excited, but I tried not to show it, you know? Because you weren’t supposed to show emotion as a guy, which I thought was really stupid, but I did it anyways because I didn’t want to mess this date up. Aileen was special, partly because she was different from the rest like me, and partly because I dreamed that she might be an artist. It was a powerful dream. The night sky contrasted the brightly lit lights of the Chipotle store, as I stood under the brilliant white sign. I shivered, I remember vividly, as a large gust of wind blew past me and ruffled my hair. I swept my hands through the messy helmet hair that covered my head. People in Woodbridge, guys in particular, all had the exact same haircut, and I hated it. They all had that weird hair cut where you spike it up and gel in to the side, you know? And as far as I know, I was the only freaking person that didn’t have that stupid cut. I dunno why everybody liked it, because it looked just weird, but everyone called me weird for not having it. I almost wanted to cut my hair just for that, but I held on tightly, and so I didn’t cut it. It was one of the things I was most proud of. I know that sounds weird and all, but when you’re being trapped by the system, you’d know the feeling as well. I remember this next part pretty vividly as well. Aileen, dressed in dark colors that matched mine rather well, and that wasn’t red or gold, showed up to Chipotle like a goddess descending from the heavens. I mean, she just looked so pretty, you know? I’m probably exaggerating it a little bit, now that I look back it from hindsight, but damn, she just seemingly looked so special. “Hi.” I said to her, trying not to seem too much of anything. I knew I was supposed to be confident, and whatever, but when I was with her I just didn’t give a damn anymore. My innocent and naïve teenage mind thought of something along the lines of marriage, and of soul mates. “Hello,” she replied, using the same tone as mine. It was as if we were in sync, I thought to myself, what a wonderful world. I invited her inside, and we got food. It was as if the entire world was a practiced serenade, and we were nothing but actors in the grand scheme of things. It was interesting, to say the least, because actors generally couldn’t choose their lives and which lives they lived out, but for me, for us- I thought that we were actors in a free world. “So,” I began after we sat down, and had our food out, “What do you wanna be when you grow up?” I know it was an odd question to ask, but I dunno, I thought it was appropriate because everybody who’s ever lived in the world has been asked that. And it seemed like a good time because obviously, careers and salary defined a person’s life, and so asking for someone’s future career was like trying to know somebody. Right? She laughed- a light, twinkling laughter that reminded me of the chimes of a bell, a tinker bell to be exact, and covered her mouth with her fleece covered fingertips. “Really?” She asked through her giggles, “that’s the question you ask me when we’re hanging out?” I nodded, half confused and half in embarrassment. “Well,” she said, as the night grew older, “I never really thought about it actually. I just know that I havta get good grades to do well in the future, you know?” I leaned forward as excitement grew like a bubble inside of my stomach. She responded perfectly, in my own little dreamt up world, and it was wonderful. I had found another, I told myself. Another person like me. “Have you ever,” I stirred the straw in my drink as I locked eyes with her, chocolate met grey-green as electricity sparked in my dreams, “I dunno, thought about becoming, oh I dunno, an artist?” Time stopped. Well, at least for me. I knew that it was a date in my own dreams, but I also knew that it was a make or break moment for me. I needed someone else like me to keep my sanity, I didn’t want to fall into the system like everybody else, and I never wanted to walk to the cliff more. This was the one of the real reasons I wanted to go on a date with her, I think, because I wanted to confirm that I wasn’t the only one who thought weirdly in this fucked up system. And of course, it went horribly. She laughed, and it sounded like fire- fire from hell and fire from the system. “Of course not,” she replied through her cackles, “I’ve never even thought about it! Come on, Merci, you know this isn’t a joke right?” My heart dropped. “Right,” I replied, keeping my tone as neutral as possible. Meanwhile, inside my mind, my dream had been corrupted by that stupid bitter smell of the system, and it felt absolutely horrible. I wanted to cry, but I knew that was also against the rules of the system, and so I didn’t. Instead, I acted like the perfect opposite of the system’s ideal of a man, and ran. Not much better, but I think that was the only logical thing I could’ve done. I dunno man, I just ran after our date. I wanna say like a coward, but nah, it was more like I was running from reality. It reminded me of the time I went to a dance, in sophomore year. It was Winter Formal, the dance they had at the end of the 1st semester, right around February or so. I remember clearly, because it was like a roller coaster of emotions for me, or at least I thought so. It was the first time I really questioned everything. Don’t get me wrong, the dance was okay. It was what happened after that was just so fucked up. Winter Formal was a pretty big thing in Woodbridge, it was like a mini prom almost. I dunno, I guess I romanticized the idea too much or something, because I was really fucking sad. There was a tradition in Woodbridge that everybody who was anybody would go to an after-party after. It was like a sacred tradition, and I had hoped my parents would let me go. I knew that it would make me look like an artist, but I didn’t really care. My grades were okay, and everything seemed perfectly fine. The group, however, wasn’t going- because all of their parents wanted them to study for finals. I had hoped, that maybe, possibly, in any world in my dreams, that I would be able to experience life for one time for myself. But of course, because my parents were trapped within the stupid system, they didn’t let me go. I called them at 11, when the dance was first let out, and I was so excited for me. I was ready to just have fun, by myself, and to just enjoy myself for one night in my life. I was ready to be care free- for once. “Father,” I said into the phone, “can I stay for an after party and sleepover there? I’ll be back by morning. It’s just this one night.” There was a silence for a brief period of time, and my excitement was welling up inside of me like waves against a dam. But as all things eventually fall, so did I. “No. You’re nearing the end of your semester. Finish junior year and then maybe we will let you go next year.” And without a reply, without even an inquiry about my opinions or thoughts, there was a resolute click on the other side, and the line went dead. I dunno how to describe the exact emotions I felt at that certain time, because it was almost impossible to describe. It was like a sinking feeling in your chest, followed by an absolute calmness, like how people say you feel when you know for sure you’re about to die. Well maybe not you, or me, but you feel like something inside of you just died, and that may be the worst part actually. And nothing, not even music, could cheer you up. It wasn’t even the party at this point, it was something bigger, and way more impactful. I think that’s the time I gave in to the system. Anyways, I rode home in the dark after the botched up date with tears surfing behind me upon the pitch black breeze of night like invisible soldiers trying to survive the harsh reality of the world. Push. It was stupid, really, to think there was another person like me. I didn’t even know why I freaking bothered any more- in the end, no one really cared about it anyway. Push. Maybe it was right- maybe I should just go and be normal and hate on artists and go back to a life of liking cars and working out for no apparent reason just because it was socially acceptable. Push. I felt like the tiniest person in the world at that moment- it was as if the entire universe was crashing upon my shoulders, and I had to bear the weight alone. It was torturous, and it was horrifying, and it was her. The same girl that I met on my street only the night before. What was her name again? I mused silently to myself, still entranced by her aura. She was standing under the lamp light again, under that holy aura of gold. I was almost entranced by her silhouette, it looked so strong, ya know? She just looked so strong. I hopped off the bike in a single fluid motion, and strode up next to her. I didn’t know what to say, and it wasn’t like the sky above me or the ground below me could help me out either. And I didn’t know what I was doing either, because nothing made sense. I didn’t even know what was happening, and I didn’t know why I even walked up next to her. Finally, Claire, the skater chick- noticed me. “Oh, hi again.” She sounded sorta mad, and pissed off, and suddenly her presence didn’t seem so holy anymore. And, I smelt that sweet scent from last night again. Roses. “Hello,” I said back softly, as I sat down on the curb under the lamp. I almost didn’t want to look at her, after all, my eyes were still bright red from crying. I couldn’t show her, because I was a guy and guys weren’t supposed to show emotions or whatever, and they were never, ever, ever allowed to cry. My bike crashed to the ground behind us with a resounding thud as the kickstand gave away to the weight. Claire frowned, “Are you okay?” I chuckled mirthlessly from the bottom of my throat, “You know, I don’t really know. I should be saying yes, I really should. I should always be all right, right? I mean, I can’t not be alright because I’m a fucking guy, right? But I’m not…” I almost sounded hysterical, and to her, I probably sounded totally off my rocker. I didn’t know why I was telling her this, but I suppose everybody needed someone sometime. She sat down beside me, and suddenly the frown was gone, replaced by a caring expression. “You know, I’m not gonna ask what’s wrong- because that’s prying into your business or whatever. But if it helps, whenever I get bored, I usually just listen to music and sing.” I hiccupped. She awkwardly patted me on the back. Claire, being the angel that she was, pulled out her phone. Suddenly, soothing, and calm melody floated through the air. It wasn’t the awful raucous like cacophony of a stupid rap song, or one of those stupid things guys were supposed to like, no- it was Taylor Swift. And she started to sing- her voice meshed into the music like it was a piece of the puzzle, so perfectly and harmoniously, it was as if she was one with the song. “You and I’ll be safe and sound.” And I dunno why, at that moment, the dam broke right open. I started sobbing. Like wild, uncontrollable sobs. What used to be light whimpering and muttering turned into the Niagara Falls of crying, and Claire, a random stranger that I’ve only met once, stood like a rock, an anchor against the Falls. “You’re all right, hey you’re okay, you’re okay, you’reokayokayokayokay” After the hiccups stopped, and what felt like an eternity to me, I wiped my probably bloody red eyes, and turned to face her. There was silence as we stared into each other’s eyes for a brief second. It couldn’t have been more than a few milliseconds, but I dunno, I literally felt electricity pass through the air. I know it sounds cliché, but wow, it was like a thunderbolt in the shape of an arrow struck me in the heart. “Um, thanks.” She nodded, and cleared her throat. “Yeah, yeah. No problem.” “So um, you live here? I’ve never really seen you here before.” “Oh, oh yeah! Um,” she brushed her hair behind her ears with a single smooth motion of her intricate fingers, and it looked so effortlessly beautiful. “Yeah, I moved here literally a week ago.” I remember now. About a week ago, there was a whole bunch of commotion around her house, as it was previously unoccupied for a couple months as the previous owners moved out I guess. No one really paid attention to it, hell, I didn’t even notice when or where their family moved in. “Um,” I said. “Um,” she replied mockingly, teasingly. I didn’t really know what else to say, I just knew that I was feeling something that was totally foreign to me now. I got really depressed all of a sudden, even though I was in the company of a beautiful girl probably 10 times out of my league. Nothing really made sense to me anymore, I mean, what was the point of everything ya know? I had originally thought Aileen was like me, and that I wasn’t alone in this damn world wishing that I lived in another one, where the pressures of school and other stupid stuff just didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes, I read books not just because I wanted to enjoy a good story, or learn a life lesson or things of that nature, but because I wanted to imagine myself in the character’s shoes, where I could be in my own fantasy wonderland for a short while and escape the dementedness of reality. “So why were you mad earlier?” I asked, trying to spark conversation. She brushed a wayward strand of hair behind her ear, and chuckled mirthlessly. “Nothing. My parents just kinda got pissed at me because I didn’t do what they wanted me to do. But honestly, tennis isn’t for me. Writing is!” She turned towards me. “Can you understand that?” It was an oddly phrased question, and maybe in another life or in another moment in time, the question would’ve sounded insulting, but today, under the soft caress of the moonlight and the golden hue of the lamp, which created a sort of holy ground, it struck home. When I was younger, I always wanted to be an artist, a musician if you will, one who appreciated the beautiful things in the world for what they are and accepted them. Guitar, singing, dancing; I wanted to learn everything. And my parents said no. Being a little kid, it’s not like I could refuse the will of my parents, but as I got older, I felt myself getting more and more detached from the disposition of their dreams and hopes for me. I had my own passions, and I wanted more than anything to follow them. And I secretly did it, I mean, I’ve always been an okay singer, and I taught myself guitar with an old guitar I found off Craiglist for about $200, but I’ve never actually followed my passions. But Claire, even though I’ve only known her for about 10 minutes, I could tell she was 10 times stronger than me already. “Yeah, yeah I get you.” I whispered back, trying to convey my emotions through words alone. “What do you want to be?” Normally, the answer to everyone would be a computer programmer or a computer scientist. And as the practiced words were almost out of my mouth, I stopped and thought about it for a second. “A singer. You?” Claire paused for a second as well, “I wanna be an author.” I nodded, and it felt weird. I actually just spoke my real dream out loud. “So what’s the deal with tennis?” I didn’t know why I was even asking her stuff like this, I only knew this girl for about 10 minutes or so. But she just looked so cool. Claire brushed her hair behind her ears in one smooth motion and sighed. She shook her head. “I dunno why I’m telling you this. But, when I was younger, my parents really wanted me to play tennis. And so, they had trainers and coaches over since I was 9 years old. I’ve been playing tennis for 8 years, you know? And I hated every single year. It’s like a corset that they’ve fit over my body, and I can’t get out. Fuck!” Her tone changed to something familiar. I nodded in response to her story, and to my surprise, she nodded back, as if she understood me, which I guess, on a weird personal level she kind of did. “And you? What’s the deal with music?” I didn’t respond for a second. Truth to be told, I had no idea why I decided to pick music. Maybe it was from my desire to express emotions through an aesthetic medium, or maybe I just wanted to sing. “I want to express myself through something else.” “Yeah,” Claire muttered under her breath, “Don’t we all?” I nodded again. “Listen, Merci, that’s your name right?” I nodded once again. “I’m actually a pretty good singer; maybe we can have a duet sometimes?” I looked up at her, and grinned softly. “Thanks, I appreciate it. And um, I can help you with your book too.” It was her to turn to grin, and she looked so cool. “I’d like that.” When I got home last night, Cyrus was getting yelled at again. I hated coming home to this, but it’s been happening for about as long as I can remember. My parents, all knowing as they thought they were, always tried to dissuade my brother from following his dreams. They had a mindset akin to that of an Asian parent, in which if the son doesn’t do well in society, it would reflect badly on their teachings. Once, I read a book called the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and I guess it was a good book or whatever. But the underlying tone of the book, the way the mother treated the daughters like mere dogs to be ordered around and trained to be successful, well, that made me feel just so wrong. It was like trying to fit my heart shaped heart into a puzzle that only had one more hole in the shape of a square, it just wouldn’t work. Granted, there was a happy ending, and the children are very successful, and the book sold millions. But the way her children achieved success, it was aggravating to me. It hit too close to home for comfort. “I don’t care if you like gaming Cyrus! If you want to survive in this world you better conform or you’ll be a hobo on the streets begging people for money!” Good old pops yelled, and his voice sounded like a train wreck. My brother just scoffed, I could tell he was neither willing to bend or break. “Whatever, I’m gonna do exactly what I want, and you can’t stop me.” My father’s face grew progressively redder. “Why can’t you understand?! Money is everything in this world. You get money, and you will be successful! I don’t want you to be getting a salary of less than 150 grand per year, you hear me?!” His meaningless words fell on deaf ears, as Cyrus scoffed once again. “Sure dad, whatever you say. I’m gonna do me, and you do you, how about that?” “Cyrus!” My father yelled. “I said listen to me! You will learn something good like your brother, and raise your damn studies!” My brother clicked his tongue, and went up to his room. And I released a breath I didn’t realize I was holding. For so long, my parents have been yelling at my brother for not being as good as me. But after what I just talked about with Claire, I didn’t want him to be like me, I wanted to be as strong as him. For as long as I could remember, Cyrus had never bent under my parent’s pressures, while I cracked like an egg on a rock on probably the first time. He was just like Claire, so independent, so cool. I quickly hurried up to his room, and knocked on the door. The hallways were dark already, as my parents departed to bed, probably satisfied with another verbal lashing that was supposed to knock some sense and conformity into Cyrus. Sometimes, I hated how they raised me on a pedestal as an exemplary example to my brother while I was disgusted with the very fact that I was “good” enough to be their example of a stellar child in the first place. Merci. The dutiful son. The straight A’s student. What did they all have in common? They were all syncopations of a person who wasn’t strong enough to actually stand up for himself. Cyrus. The rebellious child. The ungrateful brat with A’s and a couple B’s. What did they all have in common? They were all syncopations of a person who was willing to follow his own path and walk to the beat of his own drum, even while the entire freaking band played something different from him. I shook my head to clear my unwanted thoughts, and proceeded straight into Cyrus’s room after an affirmative to go in. His room was dark as well, as our parents didn’t really approve of his gaming habits, although I doubt they knew he was really good at League. “Cyrus,” I whispered softly while touching on the shoulder gently to acquire his attention. He had headsets on, great big ones that shone with an ethereal blue light. My brother turned around with a bored expression, the same one he always sported. “What do you want?” There was an uncomfortable silence as I wilted under his gaze. I collected myself, and chose my next words carefully. “I heard what Mother and Father talked to you about-” My brother scoffed, and turned back to his game. He had entered queue, and didn’t seem interested in what I was going to tell him anymore. It was a struggle talking to him now, I realized with a heavy heart. It wasn’t always like this. Before freshmen year, we were the best of brothers, we helped each other, told secrets, and I felt like we had one of those bonds that could never be broken. But as soon as high school rolled around and my parents hammered their ideals into my head with an iron fist, my brother drew farther and farther away from me. I remember it so vividly; we were in his room, just like we were in at the present moment. And it was dark, and cold and very lonely. “I used to respect you.” He had said to me in a cold tone, “I don’t even know you anymore.” It sounds overdramatic, and like something out of a book or a movie. But it was the truth, and that was the breaking point in our brotherhood. I’ve never really tried to repair it, because I thought I was just that much better than him because I had a 4.83 and he had a mere 3.83. But now I realized how very, very stupid I was. “You don’t get to lecture me.” My brother shrugged my hand off his shoulder, as he began to concentrate on his match. From what I could tell, it was his promotion game to rank up to the top 10 spots in all of North America. I sighed. He turned around, because I’ve always acted so high and mighty around him. “What the hell is wrong with you?” “I just wanted to say, I agree with you.” “What?” He asked, shocked to his core I’d bet. I was preaching the exact opposite of what I tried to say to him a couple years, no, days earlier, which was all filled with pretentious lies and a need to feel grown up and complacent with my place in the world. “Are you okay dude? What the fuck is wrong with you?” “For once,” I smiled at him, a real, genuine smile. “Nothing.” There was a tacit click between us, and it was as if he knew exactly what I was thinking- it was as if we were 3 years younger, and just like before. My brother harrumphed. “Hmph. I guess you understand now then?” I pulled up a spare chair, the once deafening silence in the room suddenly felt much more bearable and comfortable even. I put a hand on his shoulder again. “Yeah.” He didn’t remove my hand. “You know sometimes, I think you should’ve been the older brother.” We both started giggling like idiots then. Years and years of stupidity, of needless and pretentious superiority disappeared down the drain. I felt so damn happy you know, I just felt so damn happy. Holden, I’d make you proud right now, I thought in my head as I wiped away a lone tear marking a welcomed path down my cheek. Chapter 3 It was Sunday the next day, and I decided it would be cool to sneak out while my parents were gone with their little business outing. Actually, now that I think about it, they’re always out, and I mean ever since we were children, Cyrus and I have been by ourselves. We’d only see our parents at dinner time and on, and even then, there wasn’t really conversation because they were so stressed and tired with work that they were usually grumpy. I know it’s really depressing, but when I was younger, I used to be scared of my father because he’d always yell at me for not being number one in the class. Cyrus didn’t let it bother him, I wasn’t that strong, unfortunately. Anyways, it was a nice Sunday morning, and the birds were chirping and doing their thing. Leaves dappled the ground like a fresh rain shower, and I could imagine a rainbow stretching across a sky, as far as the eye could see. With that said though, it was one of those sunless days. And while most people, AKA everyone in Woodbridge, always liked the sun and “great weather” or whatever the hell they called it when it was a scorching 90 degrees, I’ve always liked mellow days. You know, the ones where clouds drifted about in their melodramatic melancholy, and the sun was hidden from view and it was just a solid 70 degrees. Yeah, those days were nice, and luckily today was one of those days. I didn’t have Claire’s number, and it really never occurred to me to get it the night before because we were talking about all that deep stuff, that I thought getting a number was a just a tiny bit less important than talking about our futures. I whistled a quick little tune as I traversed down the slightly cracked concrete side walk that lined the row of houses on Primrose, which was the street we lived on, and it was aptly named as well. Flowers, primroses and daisies especially, literally covered almost every house’s front lawn, and I really liked that, no matter how much Nick or Dick made fun of me for it. Claire’s house was a simple one, a modest two story building with a nicely tiled roof and white walls. At least it wasn’t beige, like mine. I walked up the jaded path to her front door, which was painted once again an angelic white with a nice flower patterned window stitched right in the center of the door. I gently pushed the weathered door bell, and waited patiently for her to answer. The guitar case on my back was heavy, and it weighed slightly more on the left shoulder since I was one strapping it. I had brought it to, well, I don’t even know. But I knew it was important that I brought it. Truth to be told, my guitar hasn’t left my room since the very first day I got it from this older gentleman on Craigslist, and I think that said something really depressing about me as well. “Merci?” Claire’s voice snapped me out of my stupor. My breath got caught in my throat. Every other time I’ve seen her, it was always at night, and sure, I thought she was pretty. But now, as I stared into her eyes, she just seemed to possess a sort of ethereal natural beauty that couldn’t be matched. Her eyes, the color of hazelnut, sparkled like a freshly cut jewel under the gleaming sun. I probably could’ve stared at her alone for the entire day until she frowned. “Um, are you all right dude?” “Um,” I said slowly, trying to work logic and sense back into my brain. “Yes.” She chuckled mirthfully at my awkwardness. “Okay, so what are you doing here?” “Well you said something about hanging out the other day,” I stammered through chattering teeth. “And since I didn’t have your number, I thought it’d just be best to come in person. See, I brought my guitar with me if you wanna jam?” I patted my guitar to assure both of us it was real, and that this was happening. She laughed again at the awkwardness dancing around my face and body. “Sure, come on I wanna show you something anyways while my parents are gone.” I stepped into her house after she made the universal “come on in” gesture. I didn’t really know if I was supposed to take off my shoes or something, because I heard it was expected and respectful in Asian households to take off shoes. But when Claire didn’t make a comment, I just decided not to anyways. Plus, it added to my fuel of rebellion, or as they say, rebel without a cause. The inside of her house was Victorian, and it seemed like something out of a black and white 1950’s movie. Flowers, roses to be specific, garnished her walls through vases and the house held an enticing scent of a fresh springtime rain shower that I almost had a nostalgic flashback. The walls were white, but if you looked closely you could’ve seen the age markings that came from the battle against time over the years, however, even through its age wrinkles, it held a certain type of authority and stature, as if the house itself was demanding respect. Claire led me through her living room, which was as simple as it was elegant, and it made it all the prettier. The girl in question today, sporting a blue blouse and a white laced top, gestured for me to follow her out back. I was confused; I didn’t really understand why I had to follow her outback. Every single house in Woodbridge was regulated, as a mandatory law declared by the Irvine government. And so, every single house had to conform to a single set of rules, which seemed incredibly stupid in my opinion, but I never said it aloud. Apparently, if your house was not abiding to the laws of the state, then you would be fined an insane amount of money. I found it both depressing and kind of funny that money was the motivation that kept people in place. Sometimes, I kind of wish that society stopped progressing a couple thousand of years back, so we could keep old ways of honor and live in a fantasy time of peace. Claire’s back yard, while holding nothing out of the ordinary as it looked exactly like my owns, also held something that appeared to be special. It was exactly like mine, but for some reason it just didn’t feel exactly like mine, you know? I dunno exactly what that feeling was, but it might’ve had something to do with the fact that every ledge and stone and every skate-able thing smelled funny, almost like wax. She led me to a ladder, and gestured once again for me to follow her. I realized that she wanted us to go to the roof. Usually, I wouldn’t even dare dream of doing something that dangerous, but today, underneath the melancholic weather, it felt right. You see, I’ve never really done anything in my life. I’ve never drank, I’ve never been to a party, I’ve never been to a bonfire, I’ve never asked a girl out, I’ve never kissed a girl, I’ve never told anyone I loved them, I’ve never been on a roof before, I’ve never stargazed, I’ve never zip-lined, I’ve never skydived, I’ve never went to a high school dance with a girl, I’ve never had a girlfriend, and I’ve never done anything that I wanted to for me, and not for anything else. And so, I grabbed on to the slightly rusted metallic silver steel of the ladder, and started edging myself up the ladder bit by bit. The house wasn’t very tall, and so we only needed to climb one story in order to sit on the roof. When I finally made it up the damn thing, I noticed how very serene it was. The roof was covered by brownish maroon tiles of brick that looked like a dragon’s scales all the way around. I climbed onto the roof, and tried to look anywhere except downwards while simultaneously following Claire to our destination. Step. I zoned my eyes on her hair and that alone, trying to let the achromatic scent of roses calm the rapid beating of my heart. Step. I’ve never done anything like this before, and it both excited and terrified me. Step. I made it. Claire gave a grin as I sat down next to her, with a window to our backs. She handed my guitar back to me, as I couldn’t figure out how to carry it up the ladder. I was a little embarrassed by that, but it didn’t really matter because she helped me and was fine with that. Although I think the group would’ve laughed at me and said something about not being man enough to do something. But I didn’t care at all, oddly enough. “So?” I turned to catch her gaze with a questioning expression on my face. “What?” Claire giggled slightly. “I thought you were going to play a song for me.” “Oh.” I felt really stupid all of a sudden. “Right.” Slowly, meticulously, I unzipped the guitar case and pulled out the object I for so long have forsaken to reality. The wooden instrument, while not dusty or out of tune or showing any signs of age, seemed to give off an air of sadness. I winced slightly, the last time I had played this thing was like two weeks ago. I usually only played it when my parents were asleep or out, or whenever I was really depressed and need to recharge my batteries. Singing usually calmed my nerves, and making music, creating aesthetic harmony through sound, well- that just seemed pleasing to me. But that’s the thing, I’ve never actually really sang or played guitar to anyone but myself and the few odd bugs in my room. It was one of my closest kept secrets, because my parents would’ve had my head if they found out I was doing anything related to art, as they didn’t really appreciate the beautiful things in life and were more objectively defined. That, and the fact that they wanted me to only focus on grades and school, and nothing else. Hell, they were even against me hanging out with friends for Christ’s sake. It was a bit too close of a reminder to the mom in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother for my liking. I propped my guitar against my lap, and rested my arms on it. Usually, I’d start off with something simple like Riptide by Vance Joy, or Hey There Delilah by the Plain White T’s, but as I stared at Claire’s expecting face, and the unthinkable task in front of me, I crashed. “Um,” I stammered out. “I’ve never really performed for anyone before.” Claire’s eyes glinted in the sun light, or maybe it was just a trick of the light as she nodded slowly. I sometimes like to think that she understood exactly what I was feeling, and I think she really did, because she didn’t really pressure me. “Well, if you’re not comfortable, then you don’t have to. Stage fright, right?” I nodded too quickly for my liking. “Yeah, stage fright, that’s it.” “So um,” We both said at the same time, as another awkward silence permeated the air. “You go ahead,” She offered. “So um, “I repeated myself like an idiot. “Where are your parents?” That was the wrong question to ask, apparently, as her gaze darkened dramatically. A rough wind, garnered by the spring, blew forcefully past us, kicking up a storm of fallen and decayed leaves along the way. I watched as the last leaf kissed the ground, and then she spoke again. “My parents are out.” I nodded, and waited for her to continue. “They’re looking for college hitters for me to hit with, because I need to get better at tennis. Honestly though, I literally don’t give a flying fuck about tennis. Hell, they only got me into tennis because my grades weren’t good!” I nodded, whether in support or in acknowledgement I don’t know. But I could tell she knew that I understood her frustration on a personal level. She broke off with a hysterical laugh, and I could tell the atmosphere grew tenser. “You know, I dunno why I’m telling you this. Literally, when I was younger, I messed up in my freshmen and sophomore years and so my GPA ended up being 4.0. That wasn’t enough for my parents, they thought I was like the biggest failure to mankind or something like that. You know what they said to me? They told me that I had nothing special and nothing to show to colleges, so they were making me do a sport to try to get into college that way.” I winced at that, my parents told my brother something similar a couple of times. When he didn’t qualify for the PSAT National Merit scholarship, my parents were pissed at him. “Do you think money grows on trees?” My father had yelled in a volcanic voice. “You were 30 points off of the cut off, you were 1% away from an A-, what the hell Cyrus, just try harder! Why are you so damn bad at everything? Why can’t you be like your brother?” My brother didn’t even look fazed, but I could tell it hurt him a bit. “Sorry,” She whispered. “I don’t like talking about it, it just pisses me off. I just can’t believe that today, there’s only one definite path to ‘success’ that everyone conforms to. And if you don’t take the path, people automatically think badly of you, you know?” I nodded. I knew exactly what she meant. I repeated her words from a couple nights ago. “Like a corset being fit over your body, and you can’t breathe.” She gave me a small smile. “Yeah. Something like that.” We stared across all of Woodbridge from our vantage point, and I could see the distant mountains that separated us from San Diego like a veil of darkness, stretching up their pointy claws to pierce the sky. “You know what,” I began recklessly. “I think I will sing a song.” I dunno exactly why I decided to suddenly grow a pair and choose to sing, but I could tell she wanted to have a breather from the bad air of the system. Hell, I didn’t even know what I was going to sing, and so, I asked. “What do you want me to sing?” Claire thought for a minute, and scratched her cheek mindlessly. “How about you, oh I don’t know, write one for me?” I blanched. I’ve never done anything like that. My parents made sure to stomp any thoughts I had about creativity out of me right after I entered high school. They wanted me to be like an Asian student from an Asian country, where creativity wasn’t fostered and test results were the only thing that really mattered. And so, I didn’t think I had a single creative bone left in my body. I laughed nervously at her request externally. “Um, I can try. But for now would the song Change of Heart work?” She grinned. “I love that song.” And so I sang. My fingers flew over the guitar through practiced motions, and my right hand, formed into a pick, strummed the guitar in a rhythmic fashion as I sang. “You never found love in the city, and oh, I just had a change of heart.” My voice vibrated the air around me as I projected as much concentration and emotion as I could into it. As I finished, Claire clapped for me with another one of those cheeky grins on her face. “Dude,” She sounded rather impressed. “You can freaking sing man.” I scratched the back of my head nervously. “Thanks.” I didn’t really know what else to say about that. I mean, it was my first time performing my guilty secret to anyone. Not even Cyrus knew about this. I felt really free all of a sudden, and I laughed out loud as well. “What’s so funny?” Claire inquired, tilting her head to an odd angle. I shook my head with a small smile on my face. “Inside joke.” “Have you ever thought about becoming a singer?” I shook my head resolutely, and a bit dejectedly as well I suppose. “Why not?” I stabbed my fingers into my hand as I gripped my left fist as tight as I could. “It wouldn’t make any money.” Of course, that’s only what my parents repeatedly tell me, and for a guy who complains about the world 24/7, I was a big fucking hypocrite for even listening to them. In truth, I was a bloody coward who wasn’t brave enough to stand up for myself, like Cyrus. Claire made a distressed sound in her throat, and murmured something underneath her breath. “Is that really the reason?” I clenched my fist tighter. I never knew there was someone else like me. Aileen was close, but I think deep inside myself, I knew she wasn’t actually like me. Claire however, well she was just special. “Yeah.” I bit out. She didn’t say anything for a while after that, and neither did I. Instead, we opted for looking at the distant horizon, where the heavens collided with the Earth in a mask of dark and gloomy colors. “You know what I hate?” “Hm?” “I hate how money drives everything.” It was a reference to our earlier conversation. I didn’t think I was strong enough to admit it back then, so I gave her a couple hints at the real reason, hoping she would catch my meaning without me having to say the dreaded words aloud. I’m a big fucking coward. Saying that aloud probably wouldn’t be the best thing in the world. “Yeah.” I could tell she understood what I was trying to say with the way her head suddenly snapped to look at me. “You know, I’m going to write a book in the future. I don’t care how much tennis my parents force me to play; I’m still going to do it.” She understood. However, I winced internally at what she said because I realized she was trying to get me to pursue my passion against the will of my parents. Hell, it sounded so easy. All I have to do is tell my parents I like music and want to pursue a future in it, ignore the backlash and the speech, and then go right ahead with my dream and my life. But I just, I dunno, I just couldn’t. I shook my head. “You’re better than me then.” Claire seemed almost frustrated now. “What does it matter if you make money? Just pursue your passion.” I sighed. “Money is tight for us. If I’m to get into UCLA, or UCI, oh hell, any of the UC’s- then I’d have to procure 200,000 dollars. I mean, what the hell. How am I supposed to get that kind of money with singing, you know?” “No. No!” She exclaimed. “Why does it have to be UCLA, or UCI? What are you going there for?” “I’m going there because it’s a good college!” “But for what?” “Computer sci-” I stopped myself. I saw what she was trying to say. She knew. I swallowed down a lump of embarrassment. She knew exactly what I meant. I was just a coward. I only wanted to go the UCLA, or UCI, or any of those fucking UC schools just because my parents told me they were good schools. Hell, I didn’t even like computer science, and my parents didn’t want me to go to community college to save money either because it would be an embarrassment to them. And so, they expected me to be perfect in school so I can receive scholarships. She looked extremely tired all of a sudden. “You see what I mean?” I grimaced. “Sometimes I wonder why we even go to school.” I looked up at her again with a questioning gaze. “I mean, come on. People are going to school, not for an education because that crap’s propaganda, but to get into college and to make money. People used to go to school to learn. To learn!” She sounded exasperated, and I saw where she was coming from. “But now, it’s just to accommodate a path that everyone’s forced to walk on.” “Yeah.” And what she was saying was the truth. I think schools were originally created with the intention to encourage people of all levels of society to gain education for their own personal gains and for personal advancement. But now, all we’re doing in school is trying to get good enough grades not for ourselves, but for our parents or society or just to get into a college where we’ll repeat this cycle endlessly until we get a job. Which then we will work for money to save up to settle down and live all of our lives in a meaningless existence, not doing anything that will mean anything because we will eventually die. Fuck. That thought scared the living daylights out of me. My chest constricted like a viper, and I too felt as if a literal corset was being forced over my body. God, I dunno how people deal with this. I used to think that I was the only one to ever think like this, that I was an anomaly suffering incognito. Damn it, and then I found Claire, and I started thinking things so freaking differently. I literally only knew her for two whole days, and that was it. I looked over at her, the sky had darkened even more, and then a shadow fell across her face, giving her a sad kind of aesthetic that struck me to the core. She really was like me. No, I realized, she was better than me. Chapter 4 The next day, school started up pretty normally. It was raining again, as yesterday was a precursor of today’s weather. And the light raindrops felt and looked gray against the gray skies. After I decided to leave Claire’s house, I literally went back home and played guitar the entire day. I dunno why, I just sung at the top of my lungs. I found out that she was homeschooled, because her parents pulled her out as they wanted her to focus on tennis. I found this extremely aggravating actually, as she told me the only friends she’s ever had were tennis friends, and since she constantly moved around a lot, she didn’t have lot of those either. I didn’t understand their reasoning for pulling her out of school. Their controlling behavior reminded me too much of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and it struck too deep for my liking. Anyways, I also started on a little personal project. I told myself that I would write a song for her. I’d keep it to myself, obviously, because I wasn’t like Claire, not matter how much I wanted to be like her. She wrote books blatantly, and she doesn’t care what anyone else thinks of her, that was how cool she was. I told myself, that by the end of the year, I’d have a song ready for her, and I’d sing it to her, and I’d make her and myself proud. It felt good. I was doing something for myself, because I wanted to, finally. Anyways. The school day seemed rather normal for a Monday morning. And it really was, in a way, because I was so wrapped up with Claire and her strange yet oh so familiar ideas and ideals that I couldn’t concentrate in anything. During English class, however, something struck my nerves. Our English class was run by Mrs. Nguyen, a young and hopeful teacher who had just received her Master’s degree in college. I really liked her and the way she taught, as she allowed us to be more creative with the things we were handling. We were currently doing a reading of The Bell Jar, a book that talked about the inner workings of society and how unjust it was. I’ve always liked the books we’ve studied in English class, but 3 out of all. The Catcher in the Rye was my all time favorite, The Great Gatsby was a close second, and The Bell Jar was a good runner up as well. The Catcher in the Rye was the one that really got me started in rebelling. I mean, it literally taught me how to look at life a different way. I knew the message it was trying to send is “protect innocence”, but the way Salinger wrote it gave me inspiration to be like Holden, and to connect to him. The Great Gatsby taught me the importance and the terrible truth about money and the disgusting things it could bring into the world. The Bell Jar, well, that taught me something entirely different. It held a certain Catcher in the Rye-esque, while capturing something that was so strange and so different and so good entirely that I knew it’s a great book. I dunno how to explain it, it just is. It had a scent, a feeling, something only The 1975 was able to inspire in me. It was able to summon forth something so passionate and so strong, but with no direction that I was just left empty inside. I don’t even know. After all, “I am, I am, I am.” Actually, I’ve always liked books in general, now that I think back on it. When I was younger, my parents didn’t let me play video games because they told me it was a waste of time, and that video games would do nothing except ruin my future. They pretty much compared video games to cancer, and I think I was about 8 years old at the time. However, something good came out of it for me at least. My parents introduced me to the wonderful invention known as literature, books especially. Books were a place to escape to if I was ever sad, or down or even needed the company of an imaginary friend. I know it sounds extremely pathetic and sad, but I sometimes preferred the fantasy realms that existed in the culmination of the imagination and books then reality. Hell, I guess you could say that I’m sort of addicted to it. I remember, when I was younger, on both rainy days and just free time pretty much, I’d get a book and curl up in my bed and read for hours on end. Sometimes, I even read through entire meals because the books were just impossible to put down. However, this gave me too much of an imagination, I think, because I lost track of reality sometimes. I couldn’t and didn’t let my parents find out about my addiction to fantasy worlds where I didn’t have to be me because they wanted me to be Merci, the outstanding student and the dutiful son. It’s gotten to the point that, sometimes, well not sometimes, okay a lot of times, I would have dreams about wildly scary stuff. Scary not as in the horror movie scary, but I mean scary in the way that I almost lost my feet on the realms of reality. Sometimes, I’d dream about myself living in fantasy worlds, or being in fantasy situations only heroes in the books were in. You see, once I had this insane idea that I was destined for greatness because of all the books I read, and that my parents and school and college were only a trial in my long journey to be a legend. That was the scariest thought I ever had, not because it was unrealistic and a dream crusher, but because I actually thought it was true once. And then, randomly, I dreamt that I was a ninja, and that I saved the school during a school shooting. You see what I mean? Anyways, we were having one of those class discussions, and it was for points. Usually, I only participated the bare minimum amount of times just to get my points because I never really liked sharing my thoughts with anyone as I knew I thought differently from everybody else. It was a Socratic Seminar, you know, the one where you sit in a circle and talk about the meaning of life and all the symbolic things that happen in the book. And although I don’t participate that much, I still do find the points interesting as they help me make up my own mind. However, Nick and Dick and Mason don’t seem to share that sentiment. They were against the artists in general, and that sorta made me sad even though everyone was against the artists. None of them saw the point in all the symbolism, and the intricate art of looking underneath the layer. They saw the onion for the purple husked vegetable and not for the many layers of stories that have collected since its seed was first grown. We were talking about the symbolism of Esther throwing her clothes away in the middle of the night, and everyone was participating fairly well. You know, I actually didn’t get symbolism when I first started delving into the world of literature. Why would people use symbols instead of just telling the truth you know? Like, why can’t Esther just say that people are treating women badly in her time period instead of using a symbol like the bell jar to describe it? It almost annoyed me to oblivion that I just couldn’t understand why people used symbolism. I mean, why couldn’t people be honest you know? I dunno, perhaps it was just something people did to sound cooler, and that was the conclusion that I arrived at. But eventually, I discovered that symbolism is the messenger that the author uses to deliver his point without stating the truth, because it could be dangerous. Anyways, Nick giggled underneath his breath, and shook his head as he leaned in closer to me. “These idiots. English is so useless in the real world. I mean, why are people even studying this shit? It’s not like knowing the bell jar is a symbol will help you get money in the real world.” I felt my insides tie greasy knots in my stomach as I nodded unwillingly externally. Internally, however, I was just so freaking depressed, or sad, or whatever you wanna call it. I’m not sure those adjectives were the right ones, I just found it super sad that people don’t appreciate the beautiful things in life, and that everything was about money and a path that they make you follow, you know? Nick continued on in his arrogant speech, bolstered by the laughter that he received from the circles of conformity. “I bet,” He cut himself off with another unbearable giggle. “I bet there are some idiots in the room who’s gonna end up homeless because they wanna study art.” Another circle of giggling. Mrs. Nguyen pretended not to notice, I think, because if I was her I would be pissed off as hell. Listening to him talk left a bad taste in my mouth, like the sour rotten air left in the wake of Gastby’s demise, or the stench of sweat and yellow smog in The Bell Jar. He said art like it was something stuck on the bottom of your shoe, or something that was even lower than an inanimate object that had nothing worthy of recognition. But art was beautiful, and it was everywhere. It didn’t even make me angry, it just made sad that there were people in this world who just didn’t see or appreciate the beauty in things. This reminded me of a field trip our English class took to LACMA, or the LA County Museum of Art. It was a couple months back, and I was super excited internally, even though on the outside I displayed the same nonchalance as the group did. Back then, I hadn’t met Claire yet, and so I still kept my feelings to myself largely. I remember this trip so vividly because I realized something very important on this trip. I realized that there are only two kinds of people who live on this earth, those who saw past superficiality and those who didn’t. Yin and Yang. Artists and everyone else. They were all 2 sides of the same coin, and it may seem weird to describe it that way, but I’ll just show you by example. You see, in LACMA, there’s a modern art section of the museum that was by far my favorite part of the buildings. I mean, there were other parts of the museum that held other exhibitions of pretty sweet art works, but the modern art section just had something special about it. It held paintings and artworks from the contemporary era, and I remembered just gazing in awe at the artworks as every single one was so creatively simple and abstract, or just so full of itself that it was impossible to not be in awe of it. However, the group didn’t share my feelings. I remember gazing at a white piece of canvas covered by glass, as it was one of the artworks in the modern art section. You see, each modern artwork held a sort of deeper meaning, as it looked plain or just extremely simple or childish on the surface. This one was literally just a white piece of canvas, in a rectangular form a little bit bigger then my entire body. I knew that anyone could create this, but that was what made it special. Why would the artist create this? Why is this considered art? How can this be viewed as beautiful? And I think those are the most important questions to be asking, instead of, well, what Nick said. Nick stood next to me, and shook his head. “Mason, get over here you gotta see this shit.” Mason, followed by the rest of the group, waddled over and smirked at the painting that stood in front of us. “Can you believe this piece of shit sold for 5 million?” Nick shook his head. “I could do this in like 3 hours; c’mon this is a waste of our time. Let’s go get some food, all this art is making me nauseous.” Everybody else nodded in agreement. I however, stayed in my spot, and tried to decipher the meaning of the artwork. In the end, I realized that it was a mirror of sorts, as I could see my own reflection in the glass. I realized what the author was trying to say, and I felt proud of myself, even though it wasn’t what everybody else saw or agreed on. “You are art,” I murmured beneath my breath as I gazed at the plain white canvas one last time. “You coming dude?” Nick asked, as he walked out of the gallery with money in hand. I nodded, and followed wordlessly, as a sudden feeling of loneliness set in amongst the suddenly very hollow feeling of triumph in my chest. I dunno, I think that day I realized something really depressing about this world. I realized that no matter what people do, or no matter what I do, there’s always gonna be some people who are just obstinate enough to depreciate the beautiful things in life, and that’s just sad man. I just felt pity for them, and also because most people don’t appreciate natural beauty. I wonder how Claire deals with it, I thought to myself. I mean, she just doesn’t care what anyone thinks, that’s what made her so damn cool in my eyes. Sometimes, I wished that I was like her, but still retained my own personality you know? Although, I knew it was pretty much impossible or at least really hard because I was an HSP, or HSE, or whatever you wanna call it. HSP stands for Highly Sensitive Person, and it’s actually a condition that has been diagnosed. Apparently, 20% of the global human population has it. HSP was, I dunno exactly how to describe it. I guess you could say it defined me for who I was, and everything that happened to me. You see, HSP is a condition in which the person overanalyzes everything, and I know I’m getting sorta technical and science-y, but just bear with me. Basically, the person is “sensitive” and extremely empathetic to everything, even the smallest of comments. I dunno, for instance, ever since I was young, my friends have been telling me that I was way too sensitive and can’t take a joke for my life, and I mean I tried, I really did. It’s just built into my nervous system, and into my neurological pathways that I overanalyze everything, so a simple joke doesn’t even register with me. I mean, it was all right at the beginning, where I was just joking around with the group, but after a while, the jokes started getting to my HSP personality and I just started thinking about things like “are they actually my friends,” or like “maybe I should find a new group” or something like that. And it was really hard for me to not conform, no matter how hard I tried to fight against my instincts. Standing out made me feel like I was a guinea pig just being watched. Missing a ball on the soccer team made me feel so self-conscious that I just didn’t want to touch the ball anymore, and that’s one of the major reasons I don’t play sports. And being in the norm made me feel comfortable, no matter how fucked up the norm is. HSP is pretty much the story of my life in 3 capital letters. The thing about HSP is that you feel like you’re alone in a world where everyone around you isn’t like you, and that’s really freaking scary. I’ve never actually found another HSP person that I knew, and so it was hopeless for me to actually have a real solid best friend you know? HSP people understand each other better and just people in general, and so they naturally have an affinity for friendship. I wondered if Claire was HSP. Hell, I wonder what she would do in my situation. Sometimes, I envied her being able to stay home from all of this crap, but on the other hand, the notion her parents deprived her of a normal childhood because they wanted her to do something they wanted for her was also extremely stupid and screwed up. At lunch, I was so caught up with my depressing thoughts that I didn’t really wanna eat anything. I just followed the group to the quad, under a large clearing where we usually eat. I tried not to really talk with anyone, because I just really wanted to be alone. Sometimes, I wondered to myself why I was actually even hanging out with them in the first place, and it was because of this that I sat by myself at the ends of a table today. I noticed Aileen’s furtive and momentary glances in my general direction out of the corner of my eyes while I was eating, I knew she wanted to talk to me about something, but I didn’t know what it was, and I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to know. I probably looked like a huge loner, on the outskirts and outcaste by society, but for once, I really didn’t mind. I was just so damn depressed about everything. I wasn’t sure if it was the fact that I was the only HSP I know, or the fact that I had to bear the fact that I was amongst the few that actually appreciated the beautiful things in life, or maybe if it was because of the fact that I wanted to rebel against this fucked up place we lived in but I couldn’t because I was me. I think it was precisely at this time that Eryk showed up. Eryk was an interesting character, I must say. He was openly gay, first of all. In fact, he was so openly gay he was pretty much known as “that gay dude” and that made him braver then anyone I knew. In a world where homosexuality is deceivingly accepted, and where homophobia exists, he was like a shining beacon of hope and justice in the obsidian darkness. He was like a male version of Claire, in a weird sense. Eryk was also nice, extremely nice, actually he was almost too nice. And he had that charismatic charm around him that made people want to befriend him. What I like most about him, I think, is the fact that he had passion. You know how back in the old days, schools were built for the purpose of education, and not to just follow the path of a brainwashed person set on society’s path, well Eryk personified that. He went to school to learn, not to attempt to get into the best college he could. Others, actually not others, everyone else that I knew went to school just for the fact of getting into a good college. Most of them didn’t even know what they wanted to learn or major in. People make the fact that they don’t know what field they’re gonna major in such a trivial and minor detail, but I think it’s the exact opposite. We’re supposed to go to school because we want to learn something, to better ourselves for our own goals no matter what they may be. And if we don’t know what goal we have and what we wanna learn, then what’s the point, you know? But today, most people my age are lost, and I once heard this song from an artist who wrote it. I love the fact that artists can create their own art about anything they want, instead of having to conform to what a set standard. Honestly, I didn’t understand why everybody wasn’t like them, like artists I mean. There’s no sense in trying anymore, Working day jobs from nine to four, They say we’re all part of movement idiosyncrasy And they say it’s better to be with than to be me But if we do that we’re not actually living are we? So fly to Neverland with me in our dreams, See the sun and the moon eclipse behind the seas And realize that we’re revolutionaries The song, called Revolutionaries, was one of the best lyrically written songs I’ve ever heard. I dunno who it was that wrote it but I did know that whoever the writer was, he or she was gonna make it big in the future, and I was happy for him. Not for his success, but because he had the courage to do what he wanted to do when everyone else wanted him to do something different. Anyways, Eryk was an interesting character, and I remember very vividly the first time that I met him. We were sitting in Chinese class, and it was tutorial. Tutorial was like this weird 30 minute break in between classes in which you’re supposed to use to study, but no one really does anything except for talk and go on their phones. It was an odd experience to say the least, because he hit on me. Yes, that’s right. He literally hit on me. It was interesting because he was damn straight forward. I know that, in the 21st century, people are supposed to be able to say that they’re gay, or “come out” without fear, but a lot of people hide because in reality, homosexuality is still frowned upon no matter how many parades we have or congress laws we pass, and that’s just plain sad. Maybe I’m just an inherently pessimistic person, but that was just the way I view it, and I think it’s even sadder that I view it as that. Anyways, Eryk came up to me with a confident walk, and I remember this very clearly because I had never seen him around before. I knew he was a new kid, since I knew pretty much everybody in the school who was on the advanced placement route, or as I like to call it the “People Who Have Sticks Shoved Up Their Asses Route”. Sadly to say, I’m also in this route. Anyways, I was sitting in a corner, and talking to Nick about math because there was a test next period that I had to pass in order to keep my A. Everything was pretty much normal, because this was literally what I did every tutorial. My knees were crossed, and I remember that I was looking at a Venn Diagram for the difference between the equation of an ellipse and a hyperbola. “Hey, you.” A voice that sounded quite a lot like a high pitched Adam Levine said outta nowhere. I looked up, confused. Most people knew who I was, because I usually hung out with the top dogs in our school, AKA the kids who were most likely to get into Ivy Leagues or UC’s. It’s kind of a depressing thought if you really think about it, but then again isn’t everything? Anyways, I saw a young looking Asian boy in front of me, crouching. He looked like a sophomore, which was one year younger than me. His charcoal dark eyes seemed to shine with a mischievous gleam, as if he knew something that I didn’t. Dramatic irony, I think is what it’s called. “Me?” I asked precariously, not sure of whom he was talking to. Nick was still looking down at his math textbook, preoccupied within his personal little world of studying. Eryk, whose name I didn’t know back then, glanced at me with an amused smile on his face. “No Dummy, I’m talking to the person behind you.” There was a wall behind me. It was beige, and it was sarcastic to the max. “Oh. Ok.” I suddenly felt very stupid, for some strange reason. “Well um, what do you need?” Usually, when people came up to me in school, it was usually for homework help. In the “upper” echelons of our school’s society, grades were everything and so everyone did everything they could do get the best grade they could, and that included cheating, unfortunately. I have to admit, I have also cheated in the past, and so I’m just as guilty as everybody else. The thing with cheating is that I knew it was bad, hell teachers tell us this everyday and have engrained this into our heads ever since the first grade. I just thought it was worse for a different reason. You see, it just confirmed my thoughts about schools not being for the purpose of education. I know it sounds like something bordering blasphemy, but it’s totally true. No one that I knew came to school to simply learn, but to get into a good college. And that was the saddest part of them all. So when cheating occurs, sure, it’s only cheating yourself and it’s dishonest academics. But in reality, I think cheating is just so stupid and pathetic because it’s defying the very reason we’re supposed go to school in the first place, which was education for ourselves, and not just because society has set a path for us all to follow. But I think that this reason is what makes Eryk so different. “My name’s Eryk. Well most people call me that anyways, but you can just call me tonight. What’s your name?” He asked in a polite but amused manner. My jaw dropped at his audacity and the sheer amount of balls he had. “I’m Merci.” I replied in a shell shocked murmur. “Cool, cool. Hey listen. You’re cute. Wanna be my boyfriend?” I gaped. Nick’s head shot up from his purple Pre-Calculus textbook, his mouth open just as wide as mine but for totally different reasons. “Erm, um, I don’t…” I managed to stammer out. Nick burst out laughing, and he slapped his textbook with his free hand in his laughter crazed stupor. “Well?” Eryk asked again. He was being completely serious, I realized, and so I decided to be completely serious back. “Um, sorry. I’m straight.” “Oh…” Eryk looked disappointed for a second, before that happy go around face slapped back into place. It almost looked like a façade to me at the time, even though I had no idea that it was a façade after all. “Well that’s cool anyways. Who’s your friend?” Nick kept on laughing. “I’m not gay dude, don’t even think about it. If you really wanna cross lightsabers there’s an LGBT club on campus I’m sure you’re gonna fit right in.” He said all that between his hysterical giggles, and it kinda pissed me off. I glared at the ground, or nowhere in particular in fact. I really didn’t like how people still had homophobia, even though it isn’t the gay person’s fault that he’s gay. Actually, it’s not even a ‘fault’, it’s just who he is, who they are. There were pride parades and other awesome equal love events that were happening and being organized, but if you take one good look at the news, the Orlando Night Club thing isn’t really helping that much. Sometimes I hate how close minded people are, and it’s not fair to the people who deserve better. Hell, I could honestly sort of relate to them, in a weird sense. But before I could defend Eryk, he beat me to the punch. “At least I have a lightsaber to cross. And there’s nothing wrong in joining the LBGT activist club, unless you’re saying you hate around 5 million Americans, and more worldwide then you better shut it buddy. Plus, if I’m joining the LGBT club at least I don’t havta look at you’re ugly ass face anymore, it’s a good thing you’re straight because if you were gay then I’d havta turn straight to avoid you.” I lost it. I mean, I fucking lost control. I think my stomach still hurt the next day from laughing so hard. I’ve also never seen Nick look so miffed before. He looked as if he was going to say something but in the end just decided to go back to his pathetic little enclosed universe. So yeah, that was the first time I met Eryk, which was about 4 months ago from present time. Since then, he’s become one of my better friends actually. Everyone knew him as an oddball, an anomaly of sorts that they were okay to be acquainted with, but to never actually befriend. I found out that he had just moved from Texas, and that he was living with his brother in an apartment home in Woodbridge. I never really bothered to ask where his parents were, and I didn’t exactly have that in mind. You see, Eryk had always had my respect, for being openly gay and himself in a world that condemned homosexuality under false pretenses of liking, but he was a mystery even to me, even when I was closer to him then the group. And today, when I was bummed about pretty much everything and the cycle of life in general, he came over and sat with me. “Eryk?” I mumbled slowly as I chewed forlornly on a cold piece of chicken. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at some club meeting?” You see, Eryk was involved in clubs and activities all around campus, like most people I knew. However, while most people did it to have something to show for their college applications, Eryk actually only joined the clubs he was really interested in, and that made me respect him even more. He was like the moonlight in midnight, and it was hard not to be in awe of his shadow. He shrugged nonchalantly, “Nah there’s nothing today. Anyways, what’s wrong? You look sad.” I schooled my expression to a neutral one. But inside, my mind was shocked. Whenever I’m sad or angry, I always try to keep it to myself, and never really show anyone that I was emotionally down. Usually, I just try to swallow it and let it stew. It passes in about 30 minutes or so, and I don’t really like sharing with other people about my own problems, which is weird because I like it when other people shared their problems with me. Actually there’s a correction there, I don’t think I’ve found a person to share my problems with yet, because no one really understands me. “M’ not sad.” I replied as I reached for another cold piece of meat. “I swear. You’re like a girl on her period.” I was almost insulted. “So you gonna tell me? Or should I beat it outta you?” I harrumphed. I couldn’t lie for my life, which was surprising since my entire existence felt like it was based on one giant massive lie. “I dunno man.” “Merci I swear-” “No, I mean, I don’t even know myself. It’s just everything you know? Like, I’m just so freaking sad about everything. My parents are forcing me to go to college and pursue something I have no interest in, everyone else around me thinks that’s freaking normal but all I really wanna do is write songs and change the system. I HATE this system, goddamn it.” Eryk nodded, a tacit response to let me continue. “And just, fuck man. So many people hate on so many different things, it’s just sad that I can’t do anything right now to affect any goddamn thing. And like, there’s such a large discrimination for artists and art, and there’s no Goddamn appreciation for the beautiful things in life anymore. Everyone these days is so goddamn brainwashed!” I let out a long sigh, to release all the built up tension that had been boiling and stewing inside of me. It felt good, no it felt great, letting out my emotions for the first time in maybe ever to someone that I know was just like me. Perhaps it could’ve been better with Claire, perhaps not. All I knew was she probably changed my outlook on life in an instant. And I’m not some love sick puppy, it was true. She did whatever she wanted, and she didn’t care about the influence of everyone else. That was what made her so damn cool. Anyways, Eryk thought about what I said for a brief moment. I knew he was perhaps one of the 3 people who actually understood me, asides from myself and Claire. “Me too.” I nodded. He didn’t say much, but he didn’t need to either. I knew that he understood exactly what I meant, because mere words couldn’t encompass or clarify the meaning of what I had just shared with him. It was taboo, essentially, because what I had just shared was against every law, every book in society’s laws. And for him, his agreement meant he felt the same way. How it was just depressing that in a world where humans are supposed to be equal with no regards to race or gender or sexual preference, it’s just all a false pretense of equality. And what was sadder is that there is a strong denial of this, through the pride parades and the dates we name in their honor, nothing’s going to happen if we don’t treat them the same. After all, that’s the point isn’t it? Anyways, after that little talk of ours, Eryk and I headed for Chinese class, which was 5th period and also the start of the end of our day. You see, in our school, there were 6 periods of classes in total, and each day was divided up into 3 sections. So there was first and second, break, third and fourth, lunch, 5th and 6th and school was out. 5th and 6th periods were the most looked forwards to, by most students in not only our school but probably the rest of the world, I thought in hypocritical disgust, because they wanted school to end. I realized that it was all just one big giant circle as once again it comes down to the lack of drive people have anymore. Everyone was just so damn lost and drunk on society’s sweet cherry wine, and they all forgot the actual true purpose of schools, which was both sad and sort of mainstream in a bad way. But I was guilty of the same charge, but for some reason I didn’t feel disgusted with myself. I guess it was because I thought I was above the law or something, as the one dealing out the accusations and the judgments. I felt like a part of a revolutionary movement of counterculture, in which I was the only one along with Claire to have the courage to stand up for what we actually believe in instead of following blind leaders. Anyways, after school was let out, everyone headed out to do their own things, which namely were extracurriculars. EC’s were pretty important, to say the least, because according to the adults, all colleges wanted to see strong EC’s relating to the student’s area of study, AKA major. And it fucking sucked. Literally, everyone in the group was doing the EC’s just because they wanted to fulfill their college requirements, and not because they wanted to. That didn’t sit well with me for a large reason, and I disliked our system even more after I realized the fact that I couldn’t do anything to change this either. People were doing things because they “should”, and not because they wanted to I suppose I’m extremely sensitive to this topic because of what happened when I was younger, and I guess it’s technically even happening right now. My parents have always tried to make me do what they wanted me to do when they were younger, and it sucked. It was a parallel to the story of the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, without the making up part at the end. I loved music when I was younger, and after watching School of Rock, the Jack Black movie, I was determined to become a guitarist and a singer. I suppose that in a weird way, things worked out in the end because I secretly taught myself. However when I was around 6 or 7, they confronted me and gave me a choice between violin and piano. I cried myself to sleep that night because my mother had told me singing and playing guitar was too “girly”. And even as of now, as college loomed around the corner like an inevitable iceberg, I felt like the Titanic, slowing drowning in the cacophony of my own misery and madness because my parents wanted me to study computer science, and yet I don’t even know if I wanted to study it. Anyways, for that reason I just really disliked the people who followed blindly and the system itself. This rant of mine sounded rather quite like what people call teen rage these days, and I realized that as well. However, I don’t think of it as teen rage, and honestly, it vexes me how adults label adolescents as useless and not quite ready for the real world. I quite imagine myself as the personification of an adolescent without a phone. It was a play on a lyric from The 1975’s “This Must Be My Dream”, and honestly, that song is quite the perfect parallel if you twist your head and actually think about it, unlike most people. There’s syncopation between the lyrics and the deeper meaning that the band just achieves every time they create a new masterpiece for consumption that it’s just amazingly wholesome. The entire song literally reminded me of my life. One time, when I was younger, I thought about what it really meant to dream. Dreams are weird and fascinating at the same time because most of the time, we can’t control our dreams but we end up dreaming about the things that are most relevant to our current situations. Sometimes I dream about the intricate possibilities of the future, or of the past, or of what could’ve happened. Sometimes I replay things that happened just to get a better look at the bigger picture, and sometimes I rewind my own dreams just to keep sane from wanting to live in a delusional world arranged from fantasies. And I’ve tried chasing dreams in my dreams, but it’s harder then it seems. Another reference to The 1975’s “Woman.” I think dreams are important to me and maybe my existence as a human being because dreaming reminds me that I’m still me under all the bricks and the baggage everybody else has loaded on top of me. In dreams, although unconscious, I can still remember the fantasy world in which I caught a Pokemon, in which I actually asked Claire out on a date, in which I was a singer and a songwriter and that I was actually strong enough to do both things. I wondered what Claire dreamt of, and how she dealt with the fact that she was doing tennis as an EC even though she was strong enough to resist her parent’s will, and society’s path. That night, I rode home on my bike, still thinking about this. Chapter 5 The night was as dark as obsidian, and I remember the street lamps whizzing by like blinking stars in the night sky. I felt as if I was riding on the Milky Way, with my feet drenched in the onyx substance of the endless galaxy. Wind and leaves alike caressed my face as I rode on. I wanted to see Claire again. Honestly, school didn’t seem to hold that much of an interest in me anymore. After meeting her, all I ever wanted to do was to write music, and sing songs. It was an odd obsession, as technically anyone can do it. However, I was doing it because I actually like the miracles music can produce, and after all, music is for people who can’t handle their own thoughts. That was a quote by Matty Healy, the lead singer of The 1975, who’s basically my idol in a way. But it wasn’t only that, music served as sort of a symbol for my self-proclaimed reckless rebellion against society. However, I did only want to do it because I wanted to do it, so I guess in the end it all works out. As soon as I got home, I realized something was wrong. It was dark, 8 PM I think. But as soon as I got to my little street, Primrose, where lamp posts once lit up the streets, it was pitch black. There were no gleaming streetlights, nor the backlit gleams of little lights in kitchens. I realized, with a horrible start, that something was terribly wrong. It looked like a scene straight out of a horror movie, the Purge even. Power outage, maybe? I thought about calling my parents for a second, but the streets were so deafening with the trumpet of silence that I decided against it after some thought. My imagination started going wild as well, as I always had a terribly hyperactive imagination. “What If’s” ran through my head with the speed of a bullet train. What if my parents left me to fend for my own? What if the monsters lurking under my skin actually came to be? What if I was in the middle of a supernatural phenomenon? My feet pushed against the worn out pedals of my rusty bike like my life depended on it. It was my grandfather’s bike, all the way from the 1950’s. It was a light Daphne blue, which I thought was rather quite cool. Suddenly, I heard the sound of a pencil scratching recklessly against paper. And then a light, brilliant and true, shone out from the darkness. My head whipped up to gather information about the source of hope in the dark. It was her. “Claire?” I called out from my position on the ground, hoping my voice was loud enough to reach her since I’ve always had quite a quiet voice in my opinion. Claire looked up from whatever she was doing; her light dyed brunette hair danced in the wind as she gazed at me. Even in the dim light of her cell phone, she still looked breathtakingly angelic. As soon as she recognized me, and for this I felt really happy, her expression brightened and she immediately beckoned for me to join her. “Merci, come up here!” Up here? I looked closely. She was sitting on the roof again, and this time, since it was night time, I could see the night sky twinkling with millions of stars, like a sea of galaxial residue against the backdrop of the Milky Way. I had no clue what was happening, and so, I climbed. I left my bike lying down on the ground like a fallen cripple, and I sat down besides her. Claire was writing something in a notebook, and I observed her for a while. There was silence, but not awkward silence. It was the silence of the appreciation of each other’s company. In school, I had to put up a façade to enjoy the company of the group and other people. But as I sat besides the girl who changed my life, I silently enjoyed her company for real as I laid my head back against my backpack. I lay down next to her as she held up notebook against the backdrop of the brilliantly lit night sky, a sweet juxtaposition from the pitch darkness of the streets themselves. And it was ironic in a heavenly way that couldn’t be explained, but I knew it just was and I knew why it was. “What are you writing?” I finally asked her after several minutes of peaceful silence. “A book.” “Hmm.” My curiosity was peaked, but I didn’t pry. I knew how things were with artists, if they wanted to share with you they would. It was the same with me, I only shared things that I could be proud of, which I guess created a mismatching image between my façade and the real me. “Do you wanna hear the plot?” “Sure.” “It’s about this girl who lives in a world that’s so messed up beyond belief, that she doesn’t want to live anymore. She’s forced to play tennis by her parents and she hates how society is closing in around her like a glass system, or a snowglobe. And honestly she just wants to attempt suicide. But one day, she meets this boy who shared the same outlook on life about her, and this boy changed her life.” I swallowed a lump in my throat. That hit hard and it struck so damn close to home. “Say, what do you think I should use for the boy’s name?” I thought about it for a second. “Well what are you using for the girl’s name?” “My own.” I chuckled ruefully. So it was a roman a clef. “You should name him Eric.” “Eric? Why?” I shrugged. “No reason.” I felt Claire’s eyes linger on my prone form for a brief second. “All right then.” We went back to the comfortable sound of silence as I stargazed for the first time in my life. The stars shone like millions of diamonds in the night sky, and I never actually had the chance to appreciate their beauty. Can you believe that? I’ve been on this Earth for 16 years, and yet not once have I stopped to even glance fleetingly at one of the most beautiful sights of my life. There are 5840 days in 16 years. And in all those days, not once, have I ever appreciated natural celestial beauty. But tonight, as the reflections of the 10 million fireflies lit up of the night sky shone like hope in Claire’s chocolate eyes, I finally understood what I thought meant to an artist. “Are we awake?” The sound of guitar tapping, and synthetic perfection harmonized from The 1975 floated gently throughout the air. I realized with a start that Claire was playing “Change of Heart” from her phone, the same song that I sang to her a couple days ago. “Am I too old to be this stoned?” I relaxed into my backpack, and thought about everything that I’ve actually ever done in my life. If I had to list it all, I’ve actually done nothing that’s meaningful to me, and that made me incredibly sad beyond belief. All my life I’ve been controlled, manipulated even, by a system that doesn’t even care where I end up as long as I end up somewhere. I found it sad that we look down upon the denizens of the lower class, the people who are forced to be janitors, or clerks, or work minimum wage. I found it sad that even though these jobs are essential and necessary for the system, it’s still frowned upon. I frowned. Everything was really unfair. “Was it your breasts from the start, oh they played a part.” “For goodness sake, I wasn’t told you’d be this cold.” “Now it’s my time to depart, and I just got a change of heart.” Claire turned to face me and grinned at me, as she ended the song right there. I grinned internally because I realized that I ended songs too early as well. It was an odd habit, but I’ve had it since I was little. “Hey didn’t you say you would write me a song?” I sat up. “Do you want me to?” “Wait really?” Claire stifled a laugh. I glared at her half-heartedly. “Ugh, don’t laugh at me.” She chuckled underneath her breath. “So?” “Yeah. Anyways. I can try to wing it and improvise it right now if you want. We singers call this freestyle.” She laughed at the ironic joke. Just as I was about to sing though, Claire held up a hand to stop me. “Actually, I think we should wait.” I looked up, confused. “For what?” I said, a little bit hurt and insecure that she might not have wanted to hear my singing, which wasn’t half bad in my opinion. She noticed my expression, and chuckled in exasperation. “It’s not because of your singing dude. I just don’t think you’re ready yet.” I was even more confused now. “Ready for what?” Claire didn’t answer for a few moments, and so I just lay back next to her and stared at the stars in a confused manner. Was this a test or something? She suddenly seemingly changed the subject. “Have you tried waxing a curb yet?” “Um what?” “For skating, have you ever tried skating on a curb with wax?” “No…” I replied. My confusion levels were ceiling high as I stared at her. She looked disappointed at something, maybe it was me, maybe it was the universe, and maybe it was the system. I wanted so badly to understand, it vexed me so much that I wanted to ask her. However, I held back from doing so because I just knew that the time wasn’t right. “Well,” Claire continued, her voice suddenly back to her normal tone. “You should give it a try sometime, hopefully soon.” I nodded, vowing to myself that I’d try it sometime. Things with Claire always happened to amaze me, and so I always give her the benefit with the doubt. “Anyways, I wanted to ask you something.” “Hm?” “Do you want to come to my tennis match this weekend?” “Your tennis match? I thought you hated tennis.” She grimaced lightly, a frown marring her pretty features. “I do hate tennis, but not the sport but because-” She broke off and looked at me. “Well, you understand.” I gave her a barely perceptible nod, but Claire got it. She was stuck in the same situation with me, a practical parallel of my life I think. With me it was grades, school, and everybody’s expectations. With her it was tennis, school, and everybody’s expectations. I wanted so badly to give her a hug, to let her know that she wasn’t alone. But she knew she wasn’t alone, and I realized I’m the one who actually needed the hug because she was just that much stronger than me. In a way, she was like my idol. I held a deep respect for her, and a fascination for the way she did things. “Um yeah.” I responded with a nod of my head. “Yeah, seems fun.” Her gaze darkened for a brief second, almost unnoticeable, in fact. “Yeah.” She muttered dejectedly. “Fun.” I winced. “I mean-” “I know what you mean.” She cut me off with a stormy expression. “Just promise me one thing before this weekend gets here okay?” “Sure,” I replied wholeheartedly. I wanted to do anything to get her out of her funk. “Anything.” “Promise me you’ll wax a curb and try to skate it.” I gaped in disbelief. Usually, when people tell you to promise them something, it’s a sort of calamity and the promise is really big as well. But with Claire, well, I guess I probably would’ve expected it. “Um sure. Yeah. I’ll do that.” Claire laid back and relaxed. She mumbled something underneath her breath that I just couldn’t hear for the life of me. “I’m sorry?” I said, to try to show her that I didn’t understand. “Hmm? Oh nothing. I just said thank you.” I wasn’t convinced, and my expression probably didn’t convince her otherwise either. She chuckled at my indiscretion. “Look don’t worry about it. How about you tell me what’s going on in school? You know I’m homeschooled so I don’t get enough of this drama stuff that everybody else gets. And plus, we have loads of time anyways. They say the power outage isn’t going to be fixed until 10.” I shrugged my shoulders ruefully. “Sure.” And so I told her. I told her about how the school system was so fucked up, and how I thought everybody was so goddamn brainwashed by the system and set up on a blind path they follow just because everybody else does. I told her about how there was a lack of appreciation for the pretty things in life, like art, music, masterful literature, and I told her how depressed I was when I realized I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I told her about dreams, and The 1975, and what I thought dreams were meant to be in our world. I told her that I sometimes rewind dreams just to keep sane in life and the fucked up world that we lived in. I told her about Eryk, and they were so alike it was scary. I told her about how he was gay, and how he was proud of it. I told her about how proud I was that he was able to stand up for himself, and not follow the beat of the drum of the system. I told her about how I thought he was a role model for gay people everywhere, and how much impact he could make because he wanted to and not because people forced it on him. And as the morning came, I didn’t even have to rewind my dream to live in the past for a little while longer because the memory of Claire nodding and agreeing was still inked in my mind like a fresh hot brand. The next day, after school ended, Aileen approached me near the bike racks with an apologetic expression on her face. I didn’t pay her much mind, because I was too damn focused on my bike. It was my grandfather’s bike from a long time ago, and it was really precious to me because it was one of the last possessions my grandparent’s ever left in my possession. You see, I’m Canadian. Well, technically, I have a duo citizenship with America, but that’s beside the point. When I was born, my parents were barely able to scratch out a living in Vancouver because my parents were still both in school. Since they didn’t have enough money to raise me, they sent me to the States to live with my grandparents, and as a result of that. I spent of my “First’s” with my grandparents instead of my parents like I should’ve. It was odd, really, because I couldn’t be sure whether my first word was “grandma” or “grandpa” instead of “mama” or “dada”. And since they raised me and my brother for the first 7 years of my life, I was closer with them than perhaps even my parents. My grandpa and grandma were the ones to secretly encourage me to pursue guitar, even when my parent’s iron rule over me forbade me from playing any instrument besides piano and violin. In a way, I suppose my parents thought they could control me through my hobby. It failed, I’m glad to report. Anyways, when my grandparent’s died, they didn’t leave us much with their inheritance, just a couple thousand dollars of money and a house and the bike. The bike was special to me because it was the first bike I’ve ever ridden. Whenever I think of my grandparent’s death, a shot seemingly goes through my skull and my heart aches and threatens to claw its way out of my depressed state. It was a dark and humorless melancholy, one that was spurred on by nostalgic moments and the smell of cheap cigars and baked cookies. I’ve always had to choke back a sob whenever I thought of my deceased care givers. Honestly, sometimes I wish they were my parents instead. And I told myself I would take very well damn good care of their inheritance. I didn’t like scratching my bike, and every weekend I would clean it to make sure it maintained its Daphne Blue color scheme, just like how it was all those years ago when I first saw it. And yesterday, when I left the bike on the ground to climb up to Claire’s roof, I accidentally left a small scratch on the wheel guard of the bike. I cursed myself internally as I knew I would have to repaint it, and carefully so in order to not mess with the rest of the design. Just as I was formulating the plan to buy the materials and equipment necessary to refurnish the bike, Aileen tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around, startled. “Um Merci?” She said shyly, with a light tint of pink adorning her face. She looked pretty, I noticed with less enthusiasm then I would’ve a couple weeks ago before I met Claire. I grunted at her. “Hey.” “Hi.” “What’s up?” She twirled her hair, a nervous tick of hers if I remembered correctly. “Um, can we talk, like privately?” I looked around. There was nobody within earshot distance of us. But I suppose she wanted to go into a secluded place or what not, and I shrugged. There really was nothing wrong with that. I didn’t have that much to do that night anyways. All I had to do was fix my bike, and I really had no homework either way. “Sure.” She led me to Chipotle, the same damn restaurant, from our first “date” if you could even call it that. I was sort of confused, because I never imagined why she actually wanted to come back. Chipotle just held bad memories for me, and I remember vividly because I was so damn disappointed with her decisions. Or maybe it was just disappointment in myself that I believed she would be different. We sat down at a table near the back of the oval shaped room. It had a nice view of one of the twin lakes that resided in the Woodbridge community. Aileen looked nervous, and I could tell because she kept touching her hair, or her face, or anything to distract her hands from an awkward nothingness. The silence was so different when I was with her than when I was with Claire, it was almost polar opposites. “So I just wanted to say sorry about last time.” I looked up, my confusion level once again reaching the ceiling. “What for?” “For, well I dunno. You just looked really unhappy. And I want you to give me another chance, because I really like you.” I was floored. What the hell was this chick talking about? I think, if I look back on it, I would’ve been really happy if she told me this before I met Claire, however after I met Claire, all girls and people in general seemed to just fade in comparison. “Umm…” I mumbled. However, Aileen continued on without a pause. “And I know I messed up last time, I could feel you were really unhappy. So that’s why I asked you out on a date instead of you asking me out this time. But only just this once okay? I mean, you’re still the guy, you still need to do most of the work.” I’m sure she meant that last little bit as a joke, but honestly it still struck a chord in me. Claire would’ve never said that, because she wouldn’t have cared what person does the most work in a relationship or whatever you wanted to call this pathetic and superficial thing Aileen and I shared. In all honesty, I had no real intention to give her another chance, but I wanted to test her one last time to flush whatever remaining affections I’ve ever had for her out the system. In the end, all she and I could be are friends, and that’s what I aimed for. “Well,” I said. “I’m not quite sure where all this came from, but would you like to go Pokemon hunting with me?” You see, Pokemon Go just recently came out, and everybody was playing it. It was a virtual reality game on phones that allowed you to capture Pokemon and evolve them. Pretty much, everybody was obsessed with the game and the nostalgia it brought from their childhood memories. And the thing is I knew Aileen secretly loved Pokemon. I’ve seen the app on her phone, and she’s told me about how she used to play Pokemon games for hours on end when she was younger. “Um, well, I don’t really like Pokemon Go.” She said with a light nervous chuckle. I pretended to be confused, but I already predicted what was going to happen. I had hoped she wouldn’t do what I thought she would do, so that maybe I could be closer with her, but in the end she was just like everybody else, albeit a tiny bit better. “Why not?” I almost dreaded the answer. “Because everybody else plays it, and I wanna be hipster.” The thing is, she would totally play if she thought it wasn’t mainstream. It annoyed me so damn much that she wasn’t playing it because it was too popular, which was the opposite of what I usually rant about. But the difference between her and Claire, between I and Claire, is that Claire only did the things she actually wanted to do, not because she feels like she has to be different or because she feels like she has to be normal. Trying to be something you’re not, well, I hated that. I gave Aileen the most polite smile I could muster. “Well, I guess we can find something else to do some other time then.” At the end of the date, Aileen reached over and gave me a quick hug. But honestly, I didn’t even register it in my brain as something that mattered. That night, when I got home, Cyrus was getting yelled at again. I didn’t even want to know what it was about, and I didn’t even want to know why, and so I just tried to go to my room as quietly as possible while still keeping an ear out for the conversation. “Come on Cyrus! Listen to me! You will go to college, and you definitely will get a GPA as high as your brother, or you are never going to hang out ever again with your friends, do you hear me?” My father’s stern, and gruff voice echoed over from the dining room as soon as I stepped in through the garage door. My brother wasn’t even fazed, and instead just scoffed and nodded to continue eating his dinner calmly and quietly. I was in awe of the way he handled things, he looked so cool just sitting there and letting their threats breeze over him like he didn’t give a crap. However, as soon as I took a single step into the dining room to go to my room, my father’s beady angry eyes rounded on me. “Merci!” He practically yelled. I steeled myself. “Yes father?” “Why weren’t you home by 4 o clock like you’re supposed to be?” I chose my next words carefully. “I was helping a friend.” My parents both snorted in slight revulsion. “Look Merci. You’re doing really well, you have a high GPA, a good chance of getting into college, and you have good tests scores. But just remember you’re not quite done yet. You need to freaking study your ass off even harder now, as senior year is literally right around the corner, got it?” I trembled, in whether anger or fear or both. I don’t know why exactly even to this day, but I snapped for the first time in forever. And I mean, in all my years of living in this household, I’ve never talked back to my parents even once. Perhaps it was the week of revolutions and exciting new ideas I had formed after meeting Claire for the first time, or perhaps it was the stress that had just built up over me for the past 16 years of my life, for whatever reason it was actually was, I can’t believe that I had actually decided to talk back to my parents. “Why?” Everything froze. A feather could’ve shattered the deadbeat silence that surrounded the house. I could tell, even the crickets that usually encompassed my house stopped chirping, and the only sound there was existed in the form of the uncomfortable thunderstorm of silence. My father breathed out through his nostrils. “What did you say?” Honestly, by this point I was already fed up with everything, and everyone. If I couldn’t ask a burning honest question that I had, then I didn’t even see the point of doing anything in the house anymore. All of a sudden, I just got so goddamn angry. What used to be a tacit and circumstantial fear of my father turned to anger and indignant rage for the first time in forever. I suddenly felt a sense of belated calm wash over me. Everything became sharper as my breath narrowed to a razor edge point focus, sharpened by years of pent up emotions. “I asked, why.” My father spluttered in rage. “Because!” I raised an eyebrow. “Because?” He collected himself, and thought about his answer for a few seconds. I could tell he was still incredibly shocked and probably angry about me talking back to him. Actually, in the heat of the moment, I didn’t think I was doing anything extraordinary or anything. However, as my brother would tell me later, I looked so cool rebelling that I looked like James Dean. It’s rather funny because, a lot of people have told me that I resembled James Dean looks wise for a long, long time. But I’ve never really actually taken the compliment to heart. In fact, I was ashamed because although I may have looked like him, I thought I was the opposite of everything he stood up for, and symbolized. He was a symbol of strength and will- the strength and will to be able to stand up for what you believe in and not be swayed by society. He was the ultimate rebel without a cause. And I’ve never really felt like him either, until tonight. The pumping of blood through my veins, and the adrenaline threatened to overwhelm me. Everything became so damn sharp, and my vision tunneled on my father’s look of unexpected and nervous concentration. He honestly looked more shock than anything, but I realized there was the slightest hint of another emotion in his mirrored eyes as well. Was it anger? No. Pride? I stared on in confusion as he composed the last of his sentences mentally. “You need,” He spoke with a hint of anger tinting his seemingly calm voice. It resembled the eye of an angry howling storm. “You need to focus on your studies for your future!” Without a beat, I continued. If time could’ve frozen until eternity’s end, and if I died like this, I think I would’ve died happy, finally realizing one of my dreams. “And what if,” I said, through the most calm expression I could’ve ever mustered. “I don’t want to?” My father had no words of retaliation for that, and even if he did, I don’t think he would’ve been able to say it in that particular moment because it was my moment. I walked up the stairs, feeling better then I’ve felt for a long time. Honestly, I should’ve been tired, and I should’ve been scared, I’ve should’ve been every other emotion that wasn’t the one that I was feeling. I was elated. It was a calm elation, and it was calculated as well. I felt like I finally had a purpose in life. I wanted to do so much. I wanted to write songs, I wanted to sing at the top of my lungs. I wanted to walk on the moon, to yell on the roof. It was the most amazing feeling ever. Since the night was still young, and I still had moon time to burn, I decided to keep trying to write that song for Claire. I thought about the wax, and I thought about the promise, and suddenly everything felt so damn clear to me and it was as if I knew the lyrics to the song already. I meticulously pulled out a beaten up and worn out notebook, one much like the one she had, and started writing. In big bold letters at the top of the seemingly blank page that was filled with potential, filled with promising dreams and the fantasy world in my dreams, I carved out the 3 letters slowly and meticulously. I’ve never written a song before in my life, and I’ve had no idea what to make of it, or how to do it. I contemplated using Google to aid me in my efforts, but since I felt like I was living in a movie scene at the moment, I decided to just go with the flow and see what churns out of my hyperactive imagination. The beginning was slow, and I tried to put my words and feelings into paper and lyrics. However, it was harder than it seemed because I wanted this song to be a direct translation of my emotions, while sounding beautiful at the same time. I wanted it to be the harmonic syncopation between the ballad waiting to be born in the crevices of my mind, and the atheistic lyrics that I wanted to speak out from my mouth. But most of all, I wanted it to be real. It took a while, but eventually I started writing lyrics, and I formed the start of a chorus. Of course, I tried to make it as original as possible, but I won’t lie when I said I took some of the melody ideas from The 1975. It was a good tribute in my opinion, because I respected them and liked them for their style and their willingness to say whatever they had to in order to get the point across. However, as I was writing the bridge of the song, my pencil scratching furiously against paper as my inspiration ran rampant in my mind, I heard a soft 3 step knock at my door. I won’t lie; that same old regular fear I had of my parents washed over me for a brief second. It was almost a habit, no matter how sad that sounded, because every single time my parents have knocked on my door, I’ve always been scolded or yelled out for my grades. Honestly, I can’t think of one time they’ve come to my room to talk to me about anything other than grades. Actually, now that I think about it, all I’ve ever talked to my parents about are grades, and literally nothing else. They’ve never given me the sex talk, or ever complimented me when I went to Formal or anything. Hell, I think on the fucking ride to the dance itself, my father was asking me about my SAT preparations, and if I needed more classes in order to boost my score. You know, in the grand scheme of things, I realized that I really shouldn’t have been scared after I told myself I wouldn’t be scared in my moment downstairs a couple minutes ago, but I think I was just too caught up with the moment to remember. Anyways, I hesitantly rose out of my chair and smoothed out my clothes. Once I had stuffed my notebook into a tiny drawer in my desk, I composed my face into the normal calm façade it always maintained, and opened the door. I found my brother standing there instead, looking quite confused. “Cyrus?” I whispered, as my parents had probably already gone to sleep judging from the dimly lit corridor he stood in. “No shit.” He snorted expectantly, as if he was already bored by our conversation. But I wasn’t fooled; he had been like this for a long time. “Lemme come in.” I opened the slightly cracked door to my room a little wider and let him slip through under my arm. The thing is, he was my younger brother, and he was much, much shorter than me. I stood at a resolute 5”11 if I stopped my slouching, while he stood at a measly 5”2 compared to my height. But for some strange reason, he’s always looked quite a damn lot bigger and taller than me. I knew that he worked out, and when I found out a few days ago, I was so ready to be disgusted by his willingness to abide by society’s standards that I had written him off. However, I soon found out that he worked out not to fit the standards of society, but instead to be healthier and to stay in good shape because he was never an outdoors kid. He loved video games, and he was damn good at what he did. And doing that, he needed to stay in shape so that he wouldn’t become unable to handle the stress 13 hours of video games can put on a person. I had done a little research, and I found out that he was already being scouted by teams in the LCS, which was like the major leagues for the pro gaming scene of League of Legends. I played the game myself once or twice, but I was more interested in reading the lore and the unique stories of each champion or character rather than the actual game play. And I think I’ve always respected the pro players because they were labeled “nerds” playing “a fake sport”, and yet they had the dedication and the passion to stick with it and become legends. There are idiots in the world, I realized as I stared at Cyrus shoving his hands in his sweats and sitting down on my bed, that just don’t want change, even if it is for the better for the system over all. I noticed that trend with the annals of history as well, as each major revolution seemed to be a conflict between more modernistic ideals and traditional archaic ideals. And fortunately or unfortunately, the modern and more radical ideals win out in the end, because if not for them, we wouldn’t have progressed as nearly as much as we did. Cyrus heaved out a great sigh, as I sat down beside him. I had to mentally remind myself that I was the older one sometimes, because he just seemed so much more mature and stronger and bigger than me. He wrung his hands out in a nervous fashion; at least, I thought it was because he was one of the only people whose emotions I just couldn’t get a solid grip on. “What,” He finally began, and I resisted the urge to poke him on the cheek like I used to do when I was younger. “What the hell was that downstairs?” I winced internally, while composing my façade externally to remain just as bored and calm as it always was. I had a feeling he was going to say that, because he used to despise me as the poster child of my parents. I was the obedient son, the dutiful and hardworking student, and the person that would never question authority. Well, at least, I was that person externally. I nodded slightly, to show that I heard the question, and chose my next words carefully. “I’ve felt that way,” I began slowly, carefully, “for a very long time now.” He shook his head in disbelief. “What-” “Let me finish.” Steel entered my voice. He looked shell shocked. I used to be the older brother, I think, back before high school started. I used to be able to play with him, and teach him lessons and give him advice and help him, and do all the things that I wish that I could do now with him. I used to possess a certain steel in my voice that made him listen to me, no matter what he felt. And for the first time in 3 years because of my own stupid denial of the facts, and because of my obsession with trying to fit in and because of my own goddamn weakness, I finally reused that same tone. “I was an idiot. For the past 3 years I was an idiot. I’m scared that you’re going to go through the same things that I’m going through, all the pressure- Damn it all! Look Cyguy, you’re my brother, and I don’t think I’ve been a very good brother to you. However, you’ve always been stronger than me in this sense, so I think you know exactly what I’m talking about. Don’t let them take you like they took me.” It sounded ominous, and without context, like something out of a fantasy story, or a movie. But he understood, I knew he did. Because after all, he’s my brother. “Sometimes,” I finished in a strong tone, “I think you actually are the older brother.” I had told him this once before, and this time, it held a deeper intricate meaning. It was only then did I actually look up, because I had kept my head down the entire speech. Call me a coward, whatever, but I needed my time. Cyrus was crying, no, he was smiling. Mixed emotions ran across his face as he punched me on the shoulder as hard as he could. And it hurt man, it really did. I felt lava and pain erupt in my shoulder socket as his fist made contact with my arm, but I kept grinning at him through clenched teeth and a single tear drop stain on my left cheek. We both knew what it meant. He had forgiven me, and for the first time in what felt like forever, I finally felt like the older brother again. Chapter 6 It was a school night that night, but I didn’t care. I needed to find Claire. I wanted to show her the song that I wrote for her, and tell her about how I talked back to my parents and stood up for myself. I felt like she was the only one in the goddamn world, where 7 billion people resided, that actually understood me for who I actually am. My room was on the second story, and Claire’s house was a couple houses over, but her room was also on the second story as well, with a window connecting to her roof. A crazy idea came to mind as I stood up with purpose and conviction in my hands. I quickly opened my drawer after my brother left for his room to continue his gaming night life, and I grabbed my worn out notebook filled with gold, where I had written down all my ideas and songs. I knew what I was about to do was dangerous, perhaps even suicidal in some ways, but for some reason I felt like I was part of a movement bigger then myself, and I felt like I could’ve done anything. As silently as I could, I lifted the bar that locked my window with a nervous anticipation for what was about to come. I didn’t even think the whole plan through, and I didn’t even know if she was home or not. After all, I had no way of contacting her since I didn’t even have her number in my contacts list. However, I just had a feeling, an in sync connection with whatever thing was watching over us that it would work out. Was it God? I didn’t know, but I knew that whatever it was, I’m so glad that it worked out. I leapt out of my window with as much might as I could muster, while at the same time trying to be as stealthy as possible. I knew that sneaking out past curfew broke every law and rule in the game and the system, but I didn’t care. Instead, I rather quite liked the feeling. It was intense, and I wondered if addiction felt like this. The next house over was about a car lengths shape away, and normally, I didn’t think it was humanly possible to jump and be able to clear that distance. But tonight, as the moonlight filled my limbs with a celestial strength, I knew that I could do anything. I jumped. I jumped. I jumped. And my feet touched the familiar maroon brown tiles that I’ve become so infatuated with for the past week. Claire’s house stood as more of a safe haven and a home then even my own house was to me. And every night, as I traversed the land of dreams, I would always see her, and her chocolate eyes and the maroon brown tiles of the roof on the moon. I don’t know why the freaking moon was there, but I knew it was symbolic in some way. Actually not that I think about it, I’ve had the exact same dream for the past 3 days, and they were always about her. She was an addiction, an infatuation that didn’t even start off as romantic, but instead as a growing respect for her character as a person rather than by her looks or her grace. I realized that I actually quite liked her. And so, as I stood outside her window, as the moon took its darkened journey across the midnight sky, in a reverse parallel of the sun’s, I suddenly very much wanted to chicken out. I didn’t know what happened, but a few moments ago I was quite ready and eager to speak with her about my actions today and show her the song that I wrote to her. However, as soon as I realized I liked her, all that went out the window. Childish and petty thoughts filled my head as my hyperactive imagination went to work. Suddenly, the movie that I told myself that I was in turned into a chick flick romance, and I was putty in her hands. I started worrying about how my hair looked, and the fact that I smelled like an awkward scent of perfume also turned my muddled brain self-conscious. I knew for a fact that Claire probably was different from the other girls, and probably wouldn’t have cared as much. However, there was still some innate human instinct, or some possessed demonic things driven so deep into my psyche by society and peer pressure that just forced me to feel this way. I knew that she was right beyond that window, and there was literally a 5 centimeter thin barrier of glass between me and her. I could hear her blasting The 1975 through the walls, and I could practically smell the roses in her hair already. I could just knock, say hi, and proceed with my original plan. However, for that strange reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to open that window. In the end, after perhaps 5 minutes of intense concentration and much contemplation, I decided to just play it off cool. I know I probably sound like a love sick school boy, but there was just something about her that made her an addiction, she was just so distractingly irresistible. I licked my lips in nervous anticipation. Here we go. I knocked on her window three times. Claire turned. Her chocolate hazel eyes widened at the sight of me crouching near her window with a notebook in hand like Spiderman. She looked breathtakingly beautiful, even with the new addition of heavy bags under eyes. She looked tired, but the sort of tired that gave off a melodramatic feel that so resembled the style of The 1975 that I just couldn’t describe it as anything other than fashionable pessimism. She gave off an angelic laugh, one that was filled with an unknown emotion. A quick slide of the door handle, and she was suddenly crouching nose to nose with me. It was night time, around midnight to be precise. And as I stared into her eyes, I realized that the windows to her soul had almost another life of their own as I could see the reflection of the Milky Way, and the entire galaxy above us in them. Her eyes, however, were the color of the Earth after a fresh rainstorm, brimming to the tip with so much depth and strength and complexity, that if I looked into it any longer, I would’ve been lost in the mesmerizing maze that was her sweet disposition. And so, I tore my gaze away reluctantly as she chuckled in an amused manner. “So what brings Spiderman to my window at 12:16?” I winced slightly at the reference. I was about to open my mouth, to tell her about everything that happened, and how I finally stood up for what I believed in today, and then I looked into her eyes again. And for the first time, I realized that the fashionable pessimism that was the surface belayed how truly tired she was. Suddenly, my life paled in comparison importance wise. “Claire, are you all right?” Claire’s surprised expression was almost hilarious to witness. However, she was only caught off guard for a brief second, before her form reverted back to the blank façade that it used to be. “Why wouldn’t I be?” I have to give her credit. Her façade, her disguise would’ve fooled anyone else. But it was only because of the fact that I see the same façade in the mirror everyday that I was able to convince her I knew otherwise. And she understood that as well. I didn’t even have to speak. She groaned, and I had to suppress a giggle as she half-heartedly glared at me. “I knew it.” She mumbled as she leaned into her window’s embrace. I sat down next to her and gazed over. “I knew I couldn’t hide from you and your stupid sense of understanding.” I merely nodded. “What’s wrong?” Claire shook her head, and I grimaced again. I saw this act in the mirror countless times as well. I had a bad habit of keeping all my problems and negative emotions all to myself and without help. I don’t know why, but I suppose I decided that I could handle the pressure and the weight of the entire freaking world on my shoulders. And the thing is, even recognizing this habit, I still couldn’t open up. I guess Claire must’ve felt the exact same way. “You can tell me.” “I know.” I paused, and corrected myself with slight hesitation. “You don’t want to tell me.” “It’s not that.” I didn’t want to pry, and yet I didn’t want to force her to be like me and let all those negative emotions boil over and slowly erode the insides of her body. And I guess there must’ve been a God because she decided to tell me anyways. “My parents,” She said after a brief moment of silence. “They told me something that I didn’t really agree with, but I have to do it because it’s pretty important for our family and as much as I hate the way things are, we’re still family.” She broke off, and I was caught off guard as she looked at me with a gleam in her eye so in anguish and manically depressed that I didn’t want to believe it was her. “I don’t want it. I finally found someone who-” Her voice broke off at the end as she put her head between her knees, covered in ripped dark denim jeans. I awkwardly patted her on the back, and scooted closer to her. I had no experience with this, comforting people, because I never really got close enough to someone to know them on a personal level so deep that they could confide their problems to me. I decided to change the subject. I assumed that she didn’t want to talk about whatever it is her parents is forcing her do, and so I didn’t push her. I figured that she would tell me when she was ready, and I respected her for that. I told my curiosity to go love itself, and I changed the weather. “Um. So I was writing a song earlier for you, and I think I may have finally finished it.” Claire looked up as she wiped her eyes. I pretended not to see the lone teardrop that trekked down her hand like a lonely soldier. She was stronger than me, and so I had no right to judge anyways. And I wasn’t judging not only because of that but because everybody needs to let go of their emotions sometimes. It isn’t healthy otherwise. Anyways, Claire gave me a watery grin. “Can I hear it?” I coughed into my hand and forced out some laughter that hopefully wasn’t intensely nervous. “Well, I only have the lyrics right now so it’s more of a poem. But I have an idea for the chorus of the song, I just need to find the right balance between the rhythm and the melody you know?” She nodded, a sign for me to continue. And so I did. “Do you want to hear it? In poem form I mean?” Claire thought about it for a second. I mean, I had asked it as a rhetorical question, and I didn’t really expect her to tell me no, and so just as I was about to open my mouth to proceed onto the first line, Claire cut me off with an apologetic expression. “Sorry Merci, but.” And then she paused again. “Have you tried skating on a waxed curb yet?” I switched my gaze from the twinkling celestial fireflies in the night sky, to her face, which was just as brilliant. I was confused. What did wax have to do with anything? I wondered internally as my face betrayed my emotions. She sighed with an emotion that I couldn’t even trace. “Do you wanna try it now?” She seemed like she was in a hurry, and so I told her I would give it a shot if she showed me how to do it. Although, I did have doubts about what the importance of the thing was. I mean, it had to be some sort of symbolism, because there was no way wax had something to do with singing. “Sure.” In a few moments, we were down by the street side, where an already skated curb awaited. Claire had gone back inside her house and got her board and the wax. I had no idea why this entire ordeal was so damn important to her, but I decided to humor her because I wanted to take her out of her funk earlier. Under the dimly lit street lights and after the entire ordeal, I thought I understood why waxing had such a surface level appeal for the first time, and I thought that I actually deciphered the true meaning of waxing a curb. Anyways, Claire handed me the little donut shaped block of wax. I stared back at her blankly, and looked down at the foreign object in my hands. “Um.” I said in order to display my confusion. It rose to the surface quicker than even my façade. “What do I do?” Claire seemingly giggled at my expression, but I saw a flash of another undetectable emotion in her eyes. I didn’t understand what anything meant anymore, as everything became an intricate maze designed to trick the brain and fool the eyes. “You really don’t know?” “Should I know?” I replied to humor her. “Well, you’ve seen me do it before right?” I suppose that was true. I had seen her wax the curb before, the first time I had met her actually. But back then, I wasn’t how I am now. I was that angry boy who kept all of his emotions behind the façade of a deluded glass vase. It’s actually really surprising and almost funny how much I’ve changed and matured in the span of a couple days. Anyways, I gave a short nod of pretense understanding to Claire, before taking the offered piece of wax in my hands and bent down to the curb. I had seen her meticulously waxing the curb, like it was a piece of art that needed to be precisely handled, but not regulated to a certain standard. It was free flowing, and it was art, so I grabbed the donut shaped object and started grinding the hard surface against the equally tough surface of the curb. The curb itself was scratched up, and dented, and looked like it had been skated on countless times before. It was blackened to midnight, and the previous blood red coat that it were was reduced to tatters by the edges of a board hell bent on self expressionism. That’s one of the coolest things about skating, and I think that’s why both Claire and I have an odd fascination with it. I know that I probably can’t say much, because I’ve only been skating for a few hours total, but I was already in love with the culture the art brought along and the people that I got to meet. And most importantly, I was in love with the concept. Skateboarding was freedom exemplified in an art form. In skateboarding, there are no rules, and no heavy authority to tell you what to and what not to do. Sure, there were recommended steps to take, but no one said you had to follow them. You could learn whatever tricks you wanted, at whatever pace you wanted, and no one would judge. You could ride whatever board you wanted, and skate whatever wheels with whatever shoes and whatever trucks and whatever wax and whatever clothes and whatever family background and whatever past. And in the end, no one would judge because everyone is brought down to the same level upon a common ground, the art of skateboarding. The skateboarding community is also the nicest possible community ever, in which all skaters attempted to help one another get better. Claire once told me of a story in which one of the CEO’s of a large company helped a 16 year old employee of his company learn Ollies. But I think the biggest and best part about skateboarding is finding yourself. Skating is an extension of your freedom, the will to break free from the cage and do anything you’ve ever wanted to do. It’s perhaps one of the most artistically articulated ideals a sport can have, and that’s the real reason why I love it so damn much. With that in mind, I set out to skate a waxed curb. Once the entire curb was scrubbed clean with wax, and the layered coat I gave it gleamed with a shiny metallic light, I looked up at Claire for confirmation. She nodded, and gave me a nod and a thumbs up. It was time. I grabbed her board and spun it in my hands expertly, the Daphne blue rose graphic on the back of the board creating a spinning silhouette of virtual nature. I took a deep breath. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Claire staring intensely at my tense form. Her eyes were the color of mocha, warm enough to melt your heart but the kind of hot that burns you if you got too close without warning. I saw emotions sprint across her soulful eyes as I approached the curb slowly, rolling towards the inevitable moment. I couldn’t decipher any of them, as the emotions flashed by too quick to see. They ran rampant in the windows of her soul, and I thought with an almost religious reverence that the moon had never looked brighter than in her eyes. I shook my head, and cleared my thoughts of her. I knew I couldn’t fail her. I think that now that I look back on it, I didn’t realize the importance of the moment, and if I did, I definitely would’ve tried anything I could to land the goddamn trick. I knew that it meant something to her; I just didn’t know what exactly. I think that I had figured it was a figure of speech, or some literal stepping stone to learn better tricks in the future. Anyways, I approached the gleaming waxed curb slowly, and Ollied. My knees rose in that same practiced motion that would lift the wooden board up into the air, and onto the curb. I assumed by skating a waxed curb, she had meant that I would need to 50-50 it. 50-50 is a trick in which the board is slid on the trucks of the board, and the skater would need to grind the curb until it was time to pop off. The trick was to find the balance, and that was the hardest part, according to Claire. I mean, I thought I was going to do it on my first try, but evidently, that wasn’t the case. I failed spectacularly. My board slipped out from under me because I leaned way too much on the side of the curb. My left ankle snapped backwards in a painful roll, as my body pitched forwards and I fell flat on my stomach. I groaned. That absolutely sucked. Claire didn’t laugh, like most people would. And when I turned to look at her, I was almost taken back by her expression. She looked, for a lack of a better word choice, sad. I didn’t know why she looked sad, because I was the one that ended up on my stomach. However, I wasn’t mad, or angry at her. I don’t know what it was about her expression that almost gave me a heart attack. She looked sorta hopeful as well, like the sort of hope that had her expecting something in the future. And yet she also looked sad. She also looked like hope had been ripped away from her, but yet it still persisted. She looked like she expected something, but I just couldn’t give it to her, and that in turn made me sad. The entire thing was so damn sad. Sad. Sad. Sad. “You did well, for a first try at least.” She whispered as she crouched next to me and offered me her hand. I stared at her mirror like orbs, reflecting my own image back at me, different, yet the same. I took her hand. With a mighty pull, she pulled us both on our feet and we found ourselves standing nose to nose. I could smell the roses in her hair, the fresh rainstorm that was her scent, and it was addicting. I didn’t know where these thoughts came from, but I knew that they were real, and true, and I felt very kiddy once again. “You were too far on the curb side.” She said after a minute of silence. We were still standing nose to nose, and I caught her gaze. “You need to find a balance between life on the curb, and life off the curb, you know?” I figured it was a figure of speech, a skater thing if you will. And so I nodded to show that I understood her. She sighed, and took a step away from me. The oddly cold behavior was kind of hurtful, actually, and I winced internally. I felt like I failed her. “In any case, you haven’t learned how to skate a waxed curb yet. So how about I make you a deal?” “A deal?” I whispered. “Mhm.” “Ok.” “Sing me the song you wrote for me, when you learn how to skate a waxed curb. And then someday maybe we might.” I smiled, a genuine smile like the ones that I used only around her. “I think I’ll take you up on that deal.” It was her turn to smile, and she looked angelic as ever. A face straight out of a magazine, and only seventeen. She’s a killer queen, but oh she was liberty. “You’re still coming to my tournament this Saturday right?” I nodded. She gave me another brief smile through her melancholic gaze. It somehow managed to make her look all the more cooler. “Then I’ll see you there. 3 PM. Lower Peter’s Canyon.” I made a quick mental note. There was another brief moment of silence as we both gazed into each other’s eyes. She looked so in control, so cool just standing there as if there was nothing in the world that could faze her because her will was just that freaking strong. And then there was me. I was a nervous wreck internally. Externally, I was just as cool as her, putting up a calm façade that was held only by the countless hours of practice that I’ve had at school and in the house, and pretty much just everywhere except for in her vicinity. She was ice. I was fire. And yet she could’ve melted me. Finally, after what felt like eternity’s hold on time released, she shot me another cracked smile, like a broken vase that stilled maintained her beauty even after all of her peers had rotted away and withered into dust in the trials of time. “Well good night.” “Yeah.” I replied, not sure of what I was feeling at that exact moment. “Good night.” I turned just as she turned, and we walked towards our respective houses. Saturday came sooner than I thought, as the rest of the week flew by with relative ease as I just tried to keep everything to myself and get through the goddamn time. It was kind of slowly driving me crazy though, having to pretend to be something that I wasn’t. The façade that I had put on for 16 years of my life seemed to crack and wither away before my very eyes. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not, but I knew it had something to do with Claire. She just possessed a certain thing that permeated the air around her that made me addicted to her very presence. I was infatuated with her gaze. I was addicted to her touch. And it was slowly driving me insane. However, eventually, Saturday afternoon did come around and I found myself walking in unfamiliar territory. I was never really one for sports, and outdoors activities even though the group and my parents forced me to go to the goddamn gym sometimes. And even then, I tried to do as little as possible because I just didn’t give a crap about how society perceived my body, or whatever else the norms were for a guy. But as I found myself milling about the crowds of people watching tennis, an almost foreign uneasy feeling seemed to penetrate my mind. Every where I looked, people were wearing bright neon colors that was supposed to make them stand out in the crowd. However, when all those people stood together, it became a freaking colorful eyesore that I just couldn’t stand to be around. The entire thing looked like a festival, with the many different courts, and the many different types of courts, and just all the people. The sky was bright blue, the color of the people’s supposed perfect color. And the sun was out and bright, and everything was horrible. It was almost mind boggling. I couldn’t stand the energy, and all the attentive and supposedly attractive optimism these people gave off. So in the end, I just opted to sit underneath the shade of a large tree that gave me some sorts of cover from everyone else. I knew I probably stood out like a sore thumb, because I was wearing all black, and it was 90 degrees outside. However, I always wore all dark colors because I had aimed to possess the same fashionable pessimism that was shared by Claire. With my dark ripped skinny jeans, and a black dress shirt, I looked like a black dot on what seemed to be the perfectly happy place. And after 15 minutes passed, I still couldn’t find Claire. I was tempted to steel my jumpy nerves and attempt to try to find her in the crowd, because it was 2:50, and her match was in approximately 10 minutes. However, there was no need because a soft and melodic sound made its way to my ears. I turned. Claire stood behind me, and towered above me as well. From my position on the ground, with my legs sprawled forwards and my hands supporting me, she looked like an angel even more so. “Hey,” she said softly, and in an amused manner I suppose. Even when she was dressed in the same bright and obnoxious colors as everyone else, she still held on to her rather cool look of melodramatic melancholy. I nodded. “Are you ready?” She snorted. “As ready as I’ll ever be. Come on, I’ll introduce you to my parents. I told them a friend was coming to watch.” I nodded again wordlessly and followed her retreating form back into the crowds. To be perfectly honest, I was kind of nervous to meet her parents. I know it isn’t really fair of me to say, but I had already given birth to a predisposed image of them. I wanted to believe really badly that they just cared for Claire, and that they would love her enough to let her do what she wants in life. I think this was partly for me as well, because no one likes seeing their idols stumble or falter. And so I told myself that I would give them the benefit of the doubt. I regretted that decision almost instantly. Claire’s parents, for the lack of a better description, were the stereotypical Asian parents, I think. Of course, I never actually met another Asian’s parents besides hers, but that was beside the point. Claire led me to a tennis court that was a little bit away from all the other courts. There were still people crowded around the courts, where 2 other teenage girls were finishing up their matches. I couldn’t see any referees nearby, and I was a little confused at the sport already. And then I saw her parents. Her father was a tall man, his stature easily reaching over 6 feet. He held a stern visage, one that seemed to be forced in a permanent glare or scowl. His clothes were purely professional, and he wore a navy blue suit even in a day as hot as this one. His eyes, although the same cocoa brown as Claire’s, held a certain type of steel, the icy cold ones that made you want to wither under his gaze- the gaze of a seemingly superior man. I was wary of him almost instantly. Her mother, on the other hand, was almost Claire’s exact replica. And instantly, I recognized many of Claire’s angelic features on her blood relative’s face. Claire’s mother was shorter than her husband, however. She was actually a little shorter than Claire, and Claire was almost 5 inches shorter than me, although she never really felt shorter than me. And her eyes, a hazel chestnut color, seemed to have the same warmness as Claire’s yet although possessing the same steel as her husband. I liked her a little bit more than Claire’s father. “Mother, Father, this is my friend Merci.” Immediately, I felt the disapproval radiate through the air, and I felt the pressure change. Claire’s father’s goat like eyes locked onto me, and I felt like withering underneath the brutal storm that was coming. It was an intense and impressive look, one that would make lesser men tremble under its gaze. “A friend huh?” Claire’s father said the word friend like it was a disease, something that could be cut out and away. Claire had once told me before that she didn’t have a lot of friends simply because she was homeschooled. And the only friends she did have are from tennis, and they all live 2 to 3 hours away in driving distance. I thought how it was kinda fucked up that her family would take away a basic necessity in life, which were friends, but I figured that maybe she liked it that way, who knows. Her parents were inspecting me, sizing me up, and probably debating whether or not to take me and chuck me in the trash somewhere. I steeled my nerves, I wouldn’t back down again. I would be like James Dean again. I stuck out my hand, “Hi Mr. and Mrs. Dean, my name’s Merci. How do you do?” It was the most formal greeting that I could think of, one that was used to initiate contact with another person. It was basic, and it was traditional, but it worked. Mr. Dean shook my hand firmly, and his grip almost crushed my delicate piano fingers. “Hello Merci. Are you here to watch Claire’s match?” I nodded. “Yes sir.” Everything was so goddamn tense, and so goddamn formal. I hated things like this, but I knew there was some reason Claire wanted to introduce me to her parents, and if she had a plan then I would trust her because she was like me. “Mother, Father, this is the friend that I was telling you about.” She smiled thinly, and instantly, I knew something was wrong. Her parents’ expressions changed as well, and as to before where their gazes were the winter frost, they were now the howling abyss of the dead ice storm. I felt like I was excluded from something was extremely personal, and I became all the more uncomfortable. “So he’s the one you brought over to our house hm?” She nodded. I nodded. They nodded. “Well, that’s quite all right.” Mr. Dean said again. And I could tell he wanted to say something else, but a quick tap from his wife, and he forced it down his throat. It looked like he was trying to swallow the biggest cough drop in the world. I wanted to laugh at the image, but I had a bad feeling that whatever it was Mr. Dean had just swallowed was about me. “You best get ready for your tennis match.” Claire nodded, and turned to me. “Wish me luck.” “You don’t need it, but good luck.” I offered in return. She smiled thinly again. Claire’s father led me to a shady spot next to the main bleachers where everyone else sat. We were separated from the group, I noticed, and that made me uneasy. For some reason, Mrs. Dean had left to go get something, and so now it was only the two of us. The silence was almost unbearable. It was a far cry from the comfortable silence around Claire, because with her, everything was understood and we operated on almost the same mind frequency. And with her father, whereas she was the warm summer Sunday, he was the winter’s bite that could kill at anytime. “So what do you think of Claire?” He finally asked. I paused my daydream and thought about my next words instantly. “She’s nice.” I didn’t want to give anything away, because I wanted to see where he was going with this conversation. He nodded, as if expecting the answer, and suddenly changed topics. “So what colleges are you applying for?” “UCLA, UCI, pretty much all the top UC’s.” He nodded, like he almost expected this as well. “Claire wants to go to UCI. You know that right?” I grimaced. Claire told me her parents wanted her to go to UCI but, in reality, UCI was the dream school of her parents, and not hers. She told me, one night when we were gazing at the stars, that she wanted to go to a liberal arts college if it wasn’t for her parents. I respected that, and I actually really, really respected the way she stood up for herself in front of her parents. She told me her plan was to first get accepted into UCI, and then just go to a liberal arts college to show her parents that she didn’t need to go to a fancy school to learn something she didn’t want in order to be successful in life, and I was all the more impressed. I must’ve been the first one to see her true self, because I was able to recognize the façade that she put on in the mirror every single morning. On the outside, she was a normal girl with normal aspirations, who was obedient and loyal to her family, and wouldn’t question her parents. On the outside, I was a normal boy with normal aspirations, who was obedient and loyal to his family, and wouldn’t question his parents. We were two sides of the same coin, and the copper mask that was fit over us unwillingly was slowly being chipped away and eroded through our constant battle against society. Anyways, I didn’t even give her father an answer. I just sorta nodded. He harrumphed. “Look. I have nothing against you personally.” Before he even finished that sentence, I was already thinking he had something against me personally. It’s like when someone tells you “no offense”, but you already know they mean “full offense.” “But you know that is period in Claire’s life is very important to her. She loves tennis and she’s going to use that passion to get into UCI, which is her dream school. And I need her to be extremely focused during these next 6 or 7 months. So I’m going to have to ask you to stay away from her in the remaining time that you guys have left.” Everything went silent for me, and I swear the only thing I could hear was the roar of my blood pumping through my veins. How could I? How could I keep away from someone that made me feel like I wasn’t alone in the world? How could I keep away from someone I respected as both a friend and an idol? Claire just seemed to possess a certain type of charisma that possessed my mind and make me infatuated with her and her every action. She was the brightest firefly in the night sky, she was the perfect skater, and she was just so cool. And then I got angry. What the hell was Mr. Dean talking about? I mean, it’s probably a credit to her façade’s strength, but she was the opposite of everything her father told about her. She hated tennis with a passion, and she was only playing the damn sport because her parents wanted to mold her into the perfect daughter of their dreams. Mr. Dean still saw her as her façade, and not the actual Claire Dean. I’m not sure if I was happy or sad that her own father couldn’t see through her façade; even though my own father couldn’t see through mine either. Why should I stay away from her? We were friends. Hell, I’d even call her my best friend because she understood me more than anyone else in the world. She was the other side of my coin, and she was supposed to teach me how to skate a curb. And I still needed to show her the song that I’ve been working on non-stop for her. It was important. It was important, Goddamn it. And so when Mr. Dean told me that, I wanted so very badly to tell him to fuck off. Why did he get to control our lives, he wasn’t his daughter, and he certainly wasn’t me. We were our own people and we lived and breathed for different purposes, for our own goals. I really hated how people decided they could control someone and force them to conform to their ideals of a perfect person. I hated that more than anything in the world. And I had my own experiences with that as well, and it had to do with something so ordinary that it would turn out to be extraordinary. Hair. My hair was long, longer than most guys’. It wrapped around my head like a helmet, and some parts hung over my eyes, creating a false shadow that looked super cool in my opinion. If I had to describe in a way you’d understand, I’d say it’d be the cooler version of Justin Bieber’s old hair cut, the old Bieber hair you know? I loved my hair, and I loved the way that it covered my eyes sometimes. My mother, on the other hand, really didn’t. She expected my hair to be short and crisp. Originally, she had wanted me to get a buzz cut, but I threw the biggest temper tantrum when I was 6, and I turned her mind around. She allowed me to keep my hair semi long, but every month or so we’d get into an “argument” in which I try to tell her no. I’d plead with her that I didn’t want my hair cut, and she would give me an ultimatum that left me no choice but to crop my hair. I hated that day; it was usually the last Sunday of every month, and I hated it with a burning passion. I mean, I didn’t exactly care about the hair as much, even though I really liked my hair that way. The thing I really cared about was that my own mother was trying to make me conform to her ideal standard of a perfect son. It annoyed me even more that I wasn’t strong enough to fight back against even my own mother for my beliefs. It was symbolism, if you really thought about it long and hard. I remember one time, not too long ago, we were involved in another argument about my hair. I was the angriest I’ve ever been, and tears almost threatened to cloud my eyes. My mother was sitting across from me, and we were at the dining table. In a brief little “fight” earlier that day, my mother had told me to get a haircut or else, before my father told her to talk about it later because he was working on something important. As usual, I protested half-heartedly because every single time we “argued”, she would win no matter what. “Look at your hair Merci. I have allowed you to keep it like this for so damn long, I’m asking you nicely. Cut it, or else.” I winced. At the time, I really didn’t want to talk about it, as I had hoped she would forget about the whole hair business entirely. “But why Mother, what’s wrong with it now?” I ask this question every time, and she responds with the same answer every time. “The bottom line is that it cannot exceed your eyes. Cut it.” I looked down. “My hair is a part of my own body, just let me do it the way I want to do it.” “You can have your own hair when you’re 18 and making money. For now, as long as you are under my roof, you will cut it.” She used the same goddamn excuse every single time, I swear. And usually by this point, I just sigh in defeat and accept my loss. She was all the happier, and I get to keep my façade of being the obedient son. And I hated myself for it every single time. This time, however, I went farther than I’ve ever gone. “But it’s my hair. You can’t control my body or what I look like.” I’ve never seen her so livid before. With an earthcracking slam of her hands on the table, she stood up and screamed at me. “You WILL cut your hair because I am your mother and I said so! It’s the son’s duty to be obedient to the parents! You’re a horrible child if you disagree with this.” I wanted to laugh in hysterical anger. I wanted to punch something in the face. I was my own self, and I was controlled by nobody, not even my parents. Children usually listen to their parents because the parent’s know what’s best for them. However, in this situation, there was no harm for me in letting my hair stay out this long, and so based off of logic alone it is correct to assume that I didn’t have to listen to my mother. I wanted to tell her that. However, I’ve never really talked back to my parents before this, and so even the arguments that we get in are me asking my mother for what I want and her saying no, and then rinsing and repeating that process before I finally give up. “But mother,” I had tried again. I remember this part very vividly, because I saw this part through blurry tears. My mother lost it completely. I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation very well. Before this moment, I had never tried to talk back to my mother even once. And although my father tells me she has a very short temper, I’ve never seen it before because I was just so damn obedient. But now, as her face grew progressively redder and redder, I came to realize what I had gotten myself into. “Merci listen to me right now!” She was screaming, yelling at the top of her lungs. A high pitched cacophony that was eerily similar to a siren, or a dying bird. “I paid for your food and your housing for the first 16 years of your life! I demand that you repay me by getting this goddamn hair cut! How dare you talk back to your own mother?! If you don’t like the way I do things, then leave the goddamn house right now.” I choked back whatever emotion that was going to come out my mouth. It took some time before my brain finally comprehended the situation. My own mother had told me she would pretty much disown me, because she didn’t like the way my goddamn hair looked. There was something very wrong with that statement, and I wanted to curse out the world, I wanted to punch someone in the face, I just wanted to scream at the unfairness of it all. “So basically,” I choked out, and a few more teardrops came slowly into my vision, “you want me to leave if I don’t get a haircut?” I was ready to sob. It’s really just that unfair, the entirety of the situation. And although I knew my mother was going to scream at me again for almost crying, I just couldn’t help it. She was one of those people that just stuck to tradition and the rules blindly, and it was so infuriating that sometimes I didn’t see how we were related. I once told her that I wanted a pink dress shirt. She refused to buy it for me and after a long speech about how she didn’t want me to be gay; she let me off with a warning and some chores. Pretty much, I had no respect for my mother, even though I still had to love her because she gave birth to me. Sometimes, I thought to myself that in another universe, if she hadn’t been my mother and was a stranger, I would’ve hated her guts. I sighed, as my flashback ended in my head. Thinking about things like this made so tired constantly, and the melodramatic melancholy didn’t seem as fashionable as Claire’s anymore. I rooted myself in the present situation again, and everything sped back up. I didn’t really want to say yes to Mr. Dean, because I knew for a fact that I wasn’t just going to say away from her. I didn’t want to say no either, because although obviously I would totally mean it, I didn’t want them to hurt Claire, or do something that would inconvenience her in some way. And there was something else that bugged me as well, the last line of his statement seemed pretty ominous, and I didn’t like the sound of that one bit. So instead, I just shrugged my shoulders and opted to stay silent. Out of the corner of my eye, I knew that he wanted to make a comment, but decided to stay silent as well after he noticed my eyes were glued to the game that was happening in front of us. He probably decided that Claire was more important, and I’m very glad he did so. I didn’t understand tennis one bit, but when I looked at the match, I thought I could maybe get the flow of the game. I was totally wrong. Everything was so damn confusing, but Claire still looked confident in her play. Her opponent was taller than her, and white, and bore the resemblance to a person who would want to vote for Trump. And although the other girl would scream and yell in frustration every single time she lost a point, Claire kept her cool throughout it all. I didn’t understand tennis, and I don’t think I ever will, but that day I realized that Claire looked cool wherever she was. The match went on for about while, and I don’t remember a lot of details. I just remember having to shake my head from side to side like a lost puppy to follow the ball. Rally after rally, return after return, I watched the ball go between Claire’s racket, to the other chick’s racket. I lost count of how many hits there were, or who won what rally. But I remembered one thing, Claire was winning. And when she finally threw up her hands in victory, in a rare moment in which a slight smile slipped through her mask, I was happy for her. She came off the courts then, and gave the smile she always gave to me, before nodding at her father. I wanted to say something, like congratulations, but I could tell that she wanted me to wait for later. It was almost as if she expected me to tell her something, like she wanted me to confirm something for her. I didn’t really question it, and so I just followed her out into the parking lot. Mr. Dean led the way, but as he left, he sort of had this constipated look on his stern visage. He wanted to say something as well, I recognized, but I think he held back because I was there. I didn’t want to comment, but the tension in the air rose to an almost unbearable degree. Hell, I didn’t even know what I was doing; I was literally following them to their car, even though my ride was on the other side of the parking lot. I had ridden my skateboard here because I wanted to practice Ollies up curbs, and I had locked it in this little shed on the other side of the park. And on our way out, we passed by another Asian family that was crowded around one of the tennis courts. We were all walking fairly slowly; because I think Mr. Dean was purposefully slowing us down to see if I would initiate conversation with Claire. I mean, obviously I was stuck between a rock and a hard place because I was walking with them to their car, and yet I wasn’t making conversation with them either. I looked at Claire helplessly, and she shook her head and mouthed the word ‘later’. The Asian family was the most interesting, however, because it was composed of a family of 3, with one little girl being the foremost daughter. And it would’ve been a wonderful family scene, it would’ve been so cute because the Dad and the Mom were both cuddling the child, and the child was squealing in happiness, if not for the conversation that was taking place. “Mama! “ The child yelled happily, and I cracked a smile at the sight. And then I noticed the makeup. It was layered on her face, like frosting on the biggest wedding cake you’re ever gonna see. She looked like a grotesque yet perfect Asian Barbie Doll, and it made me almost more depressed than pretty much any other time. She was no older than 6 years old. The fact that a 6 year old got the memo that she needed to wear make up in order to look pretty, well, that was the most depressing thing in the world. I couldn’t believe that the corruption and the beauty standards in society were so deeply rooted in place that they started to affect the innocent minds of our future generation. If I was Holden Caufield, or if he were really alive, he would’ve thrown a fit and demanded to see the person who started this goddamn business. And what made it even worse was that literally no one around the park cared. They all thought it was perfectly normal that a 6 year old had the thought to put on makeup before she got up for kindergarten every morning. And the parents, they were doting on her like perfectly good people, except they were applying fucking mascara to her eyes. And the child herself, she actually looked happy. I sometimes wondered when superficiality became more important than the personality that defines a human being in this God forsaken world. When the colors of our eyes, the “beauty” of our skin and of our features, overwhelm the work ethic and the strong wills and souls we have, well that’s just plain fucked up. I remember reading this post on Facebook once, and it said something about women who wore more makeup had a better chance of being successful in the industrial world, or in the workplace in general. Honestly, when I read it, I wanted to throw my phone down a drain. Sometimes, I didn’t get why sexism or racism, or homosexuality existed. It really fucking depressed me. There was so much hatred and terrible things that were happening in the world because of all this hatred and discrimination, and I wondered if God really did create us. I mean, why the hell would He make some of us atheist and some of us heretics of other religions that wanted to blow up the fucking world? My random derailment of my train of thoughts started wandering to odd places. And I found myself thinking about the recent Orlando Gay Club shooting, and Eryk’s reaction to it. Chapter 7 I remember the day pretty vividly too, because it was the day right after the damn incident, and he looked so fucking scared. It was a far cry from the confident and the hilarious character he always put up. In turn, he had heavy, dark bags under his eyes that seemed like he was carrying the entire weight of a generation on his shoulders. His clothes were rumpled, and he looked like he didn’t get any sleep last night, or rather, for the past couple nights. His hands were trembling with a furiously silent emotion, one that looked like it could break his composure like glass. It was after school, and I found him like this at his usual haunt in the library in a secluded corner. Originally, I had gone to the library to return some books, but once I saw him sitting in his corner, I decided to go and say hi. And when I got there, it was like a fog of depression had settled over that entire section of the library. I almost suffocated in the teardrop permeated air. “Eryk?” I said softly, as I let my backpack drop with a gentle thump to notify him of my presence. “Merci?” He whispered back, and his voice broke. “Hey,” I spoke rather urgently once I realized something was indeed wrong. “Hey hey. Are you okay?” “No.” I winced. Usually, whenever I asked that question, no one really gives negative as an answer, because everyone was so caught up with the fact that everyone had to control their emotions, and that guys weren’t allowed to show emotions. I honestly should’ve expected Eryk to say no, because he just didn’t give a crap about that kinda stuff. He was honesty just that cool. “Well.” And I chose what words I said next extremely meticulously. “What’s wrong?” And he went off. “Did you hear about the Orlando Gay club shooting?” I nodded. In any case, he didn’t even let me finish the motion as he blitzed over it with a surge of emotion. “That’s so fucked up! Just because we’re different, you decide to murder us? That fucker didn’t just kill gay people; he also killed brothers, fathers, sons, and uncles. He didn’t just harm the LGBT community, but also the families. Like what the actual fuck?! Why can’t people just accept the fact that we’re different from everybody else?! Difference doesn’t mean negativity, or being inferior to someone. Goddamn it! Fuck God! Why the hell did He have to write that shit in the fucking Bible anyway?! I mean, if it was him that fucking made me you might of thought he wouldn’t have me gay! Fuck Him! He doesn’t deserve the fucking love of millions of people! He’s just a lunatic, just like that fucking shooter from yesterday!” He started sobbing then, like horrible, heart wrenching sobbing. And all I could do was awkwardly pat him on the back in a measly attempt to comfort him. In reality, I had no clue on what to do, because I wasn’t part of his niche, and I didn’t really have a right to say anything. However, I admired his spirit even more, because he still sounded defiant through all odds, even when such a terrible tragedy had just happened. And my HSP started kicking in, and I started to emphasize with him. That’s the thing with HSP; I’m always able to see a story from each person’s perspective because the empath in me willed it to be. And I started getting the full picture of Eryk’s emotions. He was a Christian, before this, well at least, his family was and they made him go to church every other Sunday. He had taken it, because no one had commented on his sexuality, although I wasn’t sure if anyone knew that he was gay because he told me even his brother didn’t know. This, I thought was odd because he was usually so damn confident, and aside from that little slip up, no one had really commented on his sexuality. Eryk was young, and I mean he was super fucking young. He was technically a 14 year old in sophomore year because he skipped a grade. With all his talent and all his confidence, I thought he was like almost like Cyrus in a way. However, like Cyrus, they were both young and less knowledgeable around the world, no matter how intelligent or hardworking each one was. I don’t think Eryk has ever seen people actually killed for being gay, and maybe a part of his sheer confidence resulted in that. And it was a terrible thing for me as well, watching someone you thought was infallible get broken down to some heaving mess that was sobbing almost uncontrollably. I knew I felt anger at the time, but anger at whom, at where or at what, I didn’t know. Perhaps I should’ve been angry at the shooter, and a part of me was I believe, but the HSP part of me told me that he had his own side of the story. I decided to be angry at God of all a sudden. At church, they teach you that God is perfect in His creations, and that he was the most perfect being as he willingly gave life to us, and that is why we should all love Him and His path for us. I remember one time, when I went to church, the pastor was giving one of those sermon things you’ve probably only seen in movies. Great, big chandelier, lots of hymns and humming, the works. And he said, “You know what I love about the Bible- my favorite line? Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not lean on your own understanding. And He will make your path straight.” I couldn’t believe in God after that. I mean, who else could we trust but ourselves? You can’t just simply take something at face value and just think that it works without any type of proof. I mean, there was that person that claimed vaccines give people Autism, and that was completely inaccurate. If he was God, were we just supposed to believe Him, and not take vaccines for the rest of our lives? And what of the hatred of homosexuality in the Bible? Were we supposed to trust in the Lord, and stone homosexuals to death every single time we see one? Hell no. Fuck no. I don’t think I believed in God ever since, and I certainly didn’t go to church anymore. No. Fuck Him. Fuck Him. Fuck him. I shook my head to clear my thoughts, and focused back on the present. As much as I disliked God and His teachings, I guess I still sort of respected Christianity. I mean, most Christians I met were nice people, if a little too quick to believe a book paraphrased 1300 years ago. They were misguided in my opinion, but fundamentally that made them sorta nicer in a weird way. God and I have a very interesting relationship. It was summed up by The 1975’s song “If I Believe You.” Honestly, Matty Healy was a lyrical genius to the highest caliber, not because he was good at rhyming or rhythm, but because he was so real with his lyrics and he somehow still made it sound amazing at the same time. I’ll be your child if you insist. I mean if it was you that made me you probably shouldn’t have made me atheist. I’m a lesbian kiss. I’m an evangelist. And if you don’t wanna go to hell then Miss, you better start selling this. Words to live by, really. “Eryk,” I told him softly. “Listen to me, everything’s gonna be fine. You’re stronger than this.” He mumbled something incoherent underneath his breath. I cocked my head, confused. “What?” “My brother’s the strong one.” ‘What?” I was confused. “MY BROTHER’S THE STRONG ONE.” He screamed at me, and I felt as if every eye on the library fell upon us. I didn’t get what was happening, and I think that at the time, I didn’t realize that the conversation shifted to a tone 30 degrees darker than the one we had before, and that was saying something. “I lied to you.” I was even more confused. “Both my parents are dead. I don’t have any parents. I live with my brother, who’s 18 and trying to take care of both him and I, and we don’t have anyone else. He has to take care of me, a gay person that doesn’t even deserve to be alive, and I’m such a burden to him. No matter how hard I try in school, no matter how much I try in life, I just can’t! Why am I gay?” His voice was quiet when he said it -a mere whisper that could’ve passed off as a floating wind chime, or the sound of sheer depression. However, to my deafened ears, it was the cacophony of war. I dropped my pencil and gaped at him. I was horrified. As much as I sometimes despise my parents, I couldn’t imagine them dead. I didn’t know how to comprehend the situation. He must’ve never told anyone this before, because it looks as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and he looked younger, like the 14 year old boy he was supposed to be, and not the seasoned veteran he appeared to be. The way his shoulders rose and fell in hectic sobs, the way he had his usually so strong posture broken down, well, I almost didn’t know what to say. The death of an idol; that was the situation that I felt myself in. And I lost myself to that. I wanted to cry as well, Goddamn it. Eryk had been one of the strongest people I knew, and seeing him being broken down like this, well, it was mind boggling. He represented everything that I admired, and everything that I’ve ever wanted to be in terms of willpower, he was just as cool as Claire. I couldn’t even imagine how he was still this strong, because if I lost both my parents, and I was homosexual in a world that superficially accepted it, well I’ve damn near have lost my mind. I would’ve snapped from the pressure of just everything. And with this, a new found respect, one that was higher than any previous one that I had, went out to him. William still managed to keep that smile on his face, and that drive that he kept in his heart. Even throughout all of that, he still managed to function normally and better than normally as well. Eryk was a superhero. I didn’t say something to him. All I did was just put a hand on his shoulder, and I gripped it firmly, like I was clutching at a life line because I knew that he needed one. I knew that he didn’t want me to pity him, because he didn’t need my pity. He just needed a crutch to lean on in order to get back to his original self. In a moment, we would pretend like this didn’t happen. In a moment, we would pretend like nothing ever happened, and that he was still the strong individual that I knew he was. In a moment, I would pretend I never saw his tears, and he would pretend he never shed them. Everything would be fine, and I would respect him all the more. Anyways, I focused back on the present, and before I knew it, it was already night time. And we were back to the norm. Chapter 8 I thought we were going to proceed with our secret rendezvous on the rooftops of her house, but I guess she had something totally different in mind. I didn’t question it because Claire was one of those people that were full of pleasant surprises that you just couldn’t wait for the next one to come. And soon, I found myself shivering in my thin sweater under the halo of a lamp in the eternal darkness known as night. She told me to wait for her this afternoon, right before she left with her father. Claire had hugged me and whispered. “Go to the lamp post we first met under at 9.” It was cliché, and it probably sounded like some cheesy scene out of a romance novel. But here I was, awaiting her arrival nervously with fidgety fingers and hands that were shoved deeply in my black skinny jeans. I breathed out, and took note of the moment. The stars were beautiful tonight, shining like the hopes and dreams of 7 billion people in the vastness of the black ocean known as reality. It was a beautiful sight to behold. And the moon was equally as beautiful, like the Roman goddess Diana, or the Greek goddess Artemis herself. I exhaled as slowly as possible, and immersed myself in a cloud of water vapor and steam that drove my hyperactive imagination wild. Sometimes, I saw a large battle between armies, and sometimes, I only saw a cloud of smoke that just seemed to drift around me because it sensed my tension, and almost wanted to soothe me but was afraid to die. I cupped my faint red cheeks, and exhaled again. The water vapor was clear to see, and I told myself that I was actually a smoker who was standing underneath the lamp post. I would’ve probably been wearing a dress shirt, a rose pink one to be exact. The first 4 buttons are open, leaving some parts of my chest bare. My hair would’ve been cool and wild, just like Matty’s, and I would have ripped black skinny jeans and a bottle of liquor in the other hand. Tequila, or maybe vodka. I’d have looked so cool- because I would’ve been myself even though everybody condemned actions like that. “Hey,” a soft voice said. And before I turned, I already knew who it was. “Hey,” I grinned back as I turned to face her. Claire looked amazing pretty much all the time, but tonight, it was as if she was pretty much radiating with beauty. As if the 10 million celestial fireflies that flew above high in the night sky had replaced her eyes, and she shone even brighter than the moon. “Let’s take a walk tonight.” I was confused. “No rooftop stargazing?” “Haven’t we had enough of that already?” She teased lightly. And I cracked a smile at her cheek. “So what brought on the sudden change of heart?” She giggled a bit at my word play, a tinkling sound that reminded of the melodious tune of a wind chime. “No reason whatsoever, I just wanna walk and talk.” “Walk and talk huh? To where?” “Anywhere.” She said simply, and I decided not to question her. It kinda reminded me of that one song by Journey, that Don’t Stop Believing one? It was super famous and the lyrics were cool as hell. Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world. She took the midnight train just going anywhere. Just a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit. He took the midnight train, just going anywhere. Claire and I literally personified those lyrics right now. We were just two people, two teenagers, “fluorescent adolescents” in a world that only wanted conformity and the rule of a straight path that everybody had to follow. You weren’t allowed to just go anywhere you wanted. No, you had to have a destination, and there were no adventures, no glory, and no sense of being alive. I sometimes think that’s the real reason people do drugs. Maybe they just wanted to escape from the harshness of the reality and feel actually alive. I mean, what was our existence worth if all we did was just sit in an office all day to make money to buy a house, a car, and crappy coffee? And the crappy coffee, and the car, and the house would also be tools that enabled us to get more money to get more crappy coffee and gas for the car and the mortgage for the house. It was a never ending cycle, one that depressed the hell outta me. Working a 9 to 5 job every single day, for the rest of your life, doing the same monotonous thing over and over again for 50 something years with barely a vacation every year or so sounded like absolute torture to me, and I was scared of it. I was scared because that was reality. They tell you in health class to never do drugs, because they were bad for your health. But I mean, honestly, if we had to live in that endless cycle of nothingness and insignificance and reality, why the hell wouldn’t we want to go for a change? Feeling high was probably the first time people who tried drugs have ever really felt alive, and in that sense I really couldn’t even blame them. Sometimes I think that I would like to try drugs just to see what it’s really like to actually live, to be high on life, and to escape the fucking dreaded sewers of society’s cycle. I got really depressed just thinking about it, and so I initiated the conversation this time. Actually, now that I thought about it, Claire had always been the one to initiate the conversations before, and we would always end up talking about something that both of us agreed on, and so I decided it would be my turn to be courageous and share out what I think. We were walking towards our local lake, South Lake, which was one of the 2 manmade lakes that were in the Woodbridge community. While the lakes were pretty in the daylight, with shimmering water and the happiness and the innocence of the children who were playing inside the lake, the lake at night was even more beautiful. She was balancing on the curb perfectly, and I was walking on the curb next to her, nearer to the edge. Actually, we were so close that our elbows were almost touching. “Hey um,” I started, and she looked my way. I had interrupted a brief moment of peaceful silence, in which we were both admiring the moon’s reflection on the water. It looked like one big looking glass, in which fantasies and dreams could be reflected across right at you if you were able to see yourself in another world through the gleaming mirror. “Yeah?” I thought about my words for a second, as the question that popped up in my head was something I had wanted to ask anyone for a while. Honestly, I didn’t really know why I decided to ask her this because I just wanted to initiate conversation. It was dark and ominous and foreboding, and honestly probably should’ve have been brought up by anyone in the world, but I felt courageous enough to do it today because it was inevitable and we all needed to face it one day. That cycle that I was talking about, the everlasting cycle of life that lasted till death, well it made me feel so damn insignificance. Sometimes, I thought about what the significance of our lives was if we all had to die one day. I mean, what’s the point of living, of existing, if we had to go back to the Earth one day. Why would God be so cruel, and create us to die? I mean, we’re usually somewhere on this Earth for 80 something years. That’s 29200 days. That’s 700800 hours. That’s 42048000 minutes. That much time is literally spent breathing, and living, and being scared of the eventuality of death. I won’t lie, sometimes, I would wake up in the middle of the night, having had a nightmare about death and the actual eventuality that was going to happen and I couldn’t do anything about it. There was actually no way to cheat death, and you couldn’t avoid it. And death was real. Death. Was. Real. I dream about death a lot, now that I think of it. My grandparents, my parents, everybody around me- I dreamt of all their deaths before. And myself as well. One time, before I went to bed, I actually just couldn’t sleep thinking about the inevitability of death, and how cruel this existence was. I had cold sweat all over my body, and my heart was racing at 100 miles per hour. I was petrified, and I was alone. In death, there is emptiness, you don’t exist anymore. Sometimes I get scared at the notion of not existing because I didn’t want to feel insignificant. And this brought me down another whirlwind of dark and scary thoughts. I thought about how we were alone in a universe that was constantly expanding, and that made me so damn insignificant. I wondered if the Earth was a cell, like part of the blood stream of a humongous celestial baby that was growing inside of an even bigger celestial female mother. So pretty much, I felt as insignificant as a single hair cell in my body. I felt absolutely freaking terrible now, and so I decided to finally ask her. “How do you deal with death?” She was my saving grace. Claire didn’t even hesitate; it was almost as if she had thought about this as well. But then again, I really wouldn’t be surprised because sometimes we looked like we operated on the same brain wave frequency. And even though the topic was odd, depressing even, she knew the importance of talking about it. “You know,” She started off as we stopped by a gazebo that overlooked the entire lake. She stood still for a moment and inhaled deeply. “You really can’t. All you can do is live life everyday to the fullest, because if you’re a wax candle, you might as well burn short and bright, rather than long and low, you know? You don’t wanna spend every day dealing with the eventuality of the situation, just be grateful that we were able to experience the joys of living. A friend once told me to live in the moment, because otherwise, we’re not really living.” I nodded. I guess I felt a bit better. She sighed again, and continued strolling. “One of my closer tennis friends wanted to kill herself one day. She called me up, told she had nothing to live for, and that no one would care if she was gone so she was going to actually kill herself. She had 1600 milligrams of Adderall in her palms, and she was gonna actually do it.” I almost tripped, and gaped at her back. Claire sighed again. “I didn’t know why she decided to call me during her time of crisis, but I’m very glad that she did. She didn’t wanna play tennis for her varsity team anymore, for high school, mind you, and her mother told her that she was pretty much worthless and had no accomplishments.” I growled at that. I hated people who assumed they could control the lives of others. Honestly, when I become a parent, I vowed to myself to let my child have as much freedom as possible, while still keeping him or her safe. “She told me her parents didn’t love her, and she told me about how her father left when she was younger, and her mother constantly reminded her that she looked like her father. She said she wanted to help her mother by getting rid of that image, and she told me no one would care except for me, and I think that’s why she called me. She was so scared Merci. She suffered from depression, ADHD, anxiety, and a bunch of other shit that she doesn’t deserve, I guess it drove her over the edge. It was her birthday you know? October 15th. It’s supposed to be the happiest day of the year, where everyone would celebrate her existence and such, and I had given her a present in tennis camp that day. She said since her parents haven’t said anything about her birthday, she assumed it was gonna be a surprise party.” I sucked in a deep breath. In my mind’s eye, I could already see where this tragedy was going to end up. “And so she waited. And she waited. And she waited.” My knuckles turned white from the sheer strength I put into clenching my fist. And Claire smiled grimly. “They never even talked to her. And so, she timidly went up to their room, and told them it was her birthday. Her parents only stared at her. She told she felt like crying, and honestly she probably was, but then again so would anyone. Her birthday is the one day of the year where she feels like a normal person, where she doesn’t feel depressed, because her parents didn’t believe in her depression, and told her to just get over it. And her parents, after staring at her, told her to go to her room and fucking study for her SAT’s.” Claire looked at me, and I could see the hopelessness even behind her friend’s eyes. I felt fucking terrible, and sick to the core. Imagine what that must’ve been like, your own parents, forgetting about the day that they gave birth to you. I couldn’t imagine that, because even on my birthdays, my parents at least got me something to show me appreciation, and love. But for her friend, who suffered from depression, and all those other terrible mental problems, it was probably a blow to the heart. I didn’t know what to say, but deep in my psyche, I reacted violently to the mention of depression. After all, I thought I had it once. Depression was something that’s commonly misunderstood today. And I sorta related to people who had it. People who had depression got pushed down to the ground, and it’s like getting punched in the face. It sucked that so many people today thought depression was something you could just over, or something you could just walk off. What the fuck does that even mean? Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Saying you could just “get over” depression was like saying you could ask a blind person to just open their eyes, or asking a cripple to just walk it off. It was the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, and I wondered how people can be so damn insensitive. Treating them like glass. Treating them like fragile objects, almost like the alienation of a different species. It was honestly one of the cruelest things I’ve ever heard of. Depression is an eraser, You erase that mistake over and over again. But it’s still there, Reminding you that you made an error. No one ever really uses one eraser to the very shred, You think you lost it in your backpack. But it was hiding on your desk right in front of you, So you keep that new eraser that you bought as a backup, waiting for its use. Why not just start fresh after that mistake? “Because I don’t want to waste trees.” Can’t you write on the backside? But then everyone will see how much of a screw up I can be. Depression erases happiness from you, You know it’s there, but you can’t see it. Depression erases your goals, You think there’s no point in striving for your dreams, since you’ll probably fail. Depression erases people around you, One by one they all disappear. Depression erases you, You had a real life before it came into yours. Your lively personality slowly wilts away, Your amazing memories gone, It erases you until nothing is left. And even when you’re gone the eraser is still at work. Erasing you from everyone’s memories. But it won’t be that hard, since no one really cared about you, Congratulations. For the first time, you used up your eraser. The poem was something I read from an amazing writer, and her name is Martina. I’m pretty sure she was a victim of depression herself as well, because no one can understand depression to that level unless you actually feel that way. I had thought she was like me at first when I first read the poem, long ago before I met Claire, but since I never got to meet her, I couldn’t know for sure. All I knew was that she was a tennis player that lived in Torrance, which was a little ways away from Woodbridge. The one thing that stood out to me most was the last line of the poem, because it was so thought provoking. When I first read it, I knew instantly that the depression was an eraser, as per the symbolism presented in the poem. But the last line was both ominous and joyful at the same time. Using up the eraser that was depression, does that mean that she had finally beaten depression? I mean, I’d like to think so. However, there was also another very real possibility. Death. Suicide. I mean, I knew that people committed suicide; it was a cruel fact that can’t be ignored. However, I didn’t understand why they actually did it you know? When I was younger, and my parents wouldn’t let me do something, I always told myself that I would kill myself, or something stupid like that, but I never actually did it. And the time that I actually sort of maybe thought about it deeply, and decidedly objectively if I should actually do it, it stemmed from my fear of being alone in the world, and that there was no one else like me. I thought I was just too damn different, and that I was a freak internally. Maybe this was the reason I pretended to conform externally. However, this was before I met Claire obviously. I thought about it like this; I didn’t wanna just leave everyone behind, because I thought to myself that I couldn’t go out as that kid who killed himself. I needed to be remembered. Maybe I was a product of a failed society as well, I mean, who knows? Either way, I didn’t end up doing it. And I’m very glad I didn’t, because I finally did find someone like me. I looked back at Claire, to let her know that I wouldn’t have known what to do in that situation. I would’ve been scared out of my mind, because no matter who the person is, all life is sacred. Killing isn’t the solution to anything. Sometimes, I swear, we could communicate with just looks. “I didn’t know what to do either, and so I told her that I really didn’t want her to leave, and that she was one of my best friends and that I would miss her terribly if she did leave. I told her that her mother was just talking in the heat of the moment, and that she didn’t mean anything by it. I told her that everything was going to be okay, and that she should try hard to prove everybody else wrong.” She stopped and looked at me. “You know what she did?” I was almost scared to know. No, I was scared to know. “What?” “She popped an Adderall pill. She didn’t tell me this, but I heard the gulp, and the water, and glass clinking against the table as she took a pill. I immediately rephrased, because I knew the situation was getting out of hand. So instead, I told her to simply live for herself. I told her that she was strong enough to bear the weight of her depression, and the weight of her ADHD, and all her other problems. I told her that if no one else saw her strength, and her will, then they didn’t deserve her. I told her that I loved her, and I asked her again to not leave.” There was a long pause, and a teardrop could’ve shattered the silence. Claire smiled faintly. “She didn’t.” I breathed out a huge sigh of relief. Honestly, I dunno what I would’ve done if the story went the other way. Would I cry for a life lost? Would I have been speechless? Would I have attempted to rethink what I would’ve done in that situation? “I learned a lot that day. I learned that life is precious, oh so desperately so. If you ever come that close to witnessing death itself, you will understand. Every single instinct in your body tells you to fight it, and every fiber of your being tells you to counteract it. That’s what we call our will to live. My friend lost that will, but I gave it back to her. I learned that in life and through life, even though we know about the eventuality of death, there’s no way to cope with it unless we just try to do everything we can in life, and have no regrets when we die. That’s what I think.” I looked at Claire in awe, and my respect for her, although already ceiling high, went through the roof and past the stars into the celestial realms. She had literally saved someone’s life. I’m pretty sure there are only a handful of people who can say that in the world, and those people were known as heroes. Claire Dean was literally a superhero, and most importantly, she was my superhero. She did amazing things; she stood up for what she believed in, even under pressure from so many people at the same time. She never bent to their wills, and believed in the fundamental law that governed humans, which was our right to choose. She was just so damn cool. And from her, I understood why it was important to actually feel alive, be alive. Instead of seeing life as a means to look glumly towards the inevitability known as death, life should be seen as an opportunity to do whatever it is you wanted to do, before returning to the Earth. I smiled at her, a genuine smile that I never gave to anyone but her. “Thank you.” She grinned back. “You’re welcome.” And so we kept walking, and walking, and walking. I have expected the silence that followed the dark conversation that just preceded this to be awkward, and tense, but no, instead, it was once again comfortable. And so we fell back into our natural rhythm. She pulled and I pushed, she twirled and I spun her, it was like an elegant dance of the mind, of our bodies and of our opinions. It was our little dance. “So I’m guessing you want to know about what was up with the tennis stuff and my parents earlier?” She finally broke the silence after we reached a middle school; actually it was my old middle school. I still remembered the excitement I had on my first day, and the nostalgic remembrance on my last day. I still remembered meeting the group, Aileen, all of them. It was interesting because back then, I thought nothing wrong of society because I simply didn’t know better. I was just another person who didn’t question an equation after the math teacher gave it to me, and just simply used it because someone told me to. I never questioned authority, and I was always one of those rule followers. Essentially, I was like everyone else in this fucked up place. Actually, only in the 9th grade did I actually start thinking for myself. Maybe that was why I just couldn’t trust in God. “Yeah.” I replied to her assertion. “What was that all about anyways? You’re dad looked-” She sighed, and I cut off. I didn’t want to ask what was wrong, but I knew something was wrong. The way her knuckles turned white, and the way she glared at the ground for no particularly good reason- well, they were all products of anger and negative emotions. It was weird, after knowing her for a couple weeks; I’ve only been able to read her a tiny bit even though the HSP in me should’ve been able to read her like an open book. However, it was probably just a credit to her façade. Stronger than mine, yet she was still better than me. “Nothing, we just had some family issues that were going on.” I stared. “Ok fine,” She reworded with a small smile. “I swear, you can see right through me or something. Anyways, basically he doesn’t approve of me being distracted by you because it’s senior year soon and we havta focus for college apps and what not. Honestly, it’s so fucking stupid because I don’t even wanna go to college for tennis, I just wanna go to a liberal arts college to study either writing or art you know? And it’s so stupid because he’s okay with me having other friends in tennis, just not you because he thinks you’re gonna distract me from my tennis, even though I hate the goddamn sport with a passion. And it’s just-” She broke off with a heavy sigh. “It’s just-” I nodded at her, and tried to convey as much support and emotions with one look. “I know.” She gave me a rueful smile. “You would know, wouldn’t you? Because you’re-” “Like me.” I finished the sentence for her, and we shared another smile. I felt odd. My heartbeat felt odd. “Um,” I said. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to breathe. I forgot my name, and all I knew in my mind and my soul was the reflection of a beautiful girl with marble hazelnut eyes that reflected the night sky. I could’ve gotten lost in them, because it was as endless as the Milky Way itself, and the mystery that it genuflected was even more beautiful. She smiled again, and this time, I could see her exhaustion. Perhaps it was from the strain of having to battle against the pressures her parents put on her every single day, and still come out on top, or perhaps it was just a sheer physical exhaustion from tennis, I didn’t know, but somehow she still looked like the calm and collected hero I knew. I thought about her parents, and got kinda angry again. It was a reoccurring theme, her parents literally just wouldn’t let her do anything she wanted, and it made me extremely angry that they wouldn’t let her be herself. Wasn’t that the whole point of living, being you? If you couldn’t be you, you weren’t truly living, and in that case, you might as well have just given up on being a human because free choice is a human’s greatest gift. I hated how her parents took over her life and deprived her of the necessities that she needed to be a sociable normal person. They took away her friends, a normal school life, and so much more, and yet she still stays strong. I mean, it was a love hate relationship because if it wasn’t for them, would Claire have been who she is today? She was the reason I was able to come out of my shell, and I thank her for it every day. “But,” She finished off with a crooked grin. “I don’t care. I just like hanging out with you.” I smiled back at her, genuflecting emotions and feelings that couldn’t have been better expressed except for the song that I’ve written for her. I wanted to sing it to her so badly, but we had made a deal that I had to be able to skate a waxed curb first, before I could sing it to her. It was the most beautiful song I’ve ever written. “Me too.” “So how’s it going with the curb?” She asked with a laugh to her name. I nodded. “Um yeah. No yeah it’s going alright. I’ve been able to Ollie and put my board on it. Actually, I’ve managed to grind the curb for a bit, but I can never stick the landing though. I always end up either a bit too much over or under the curb. I just need to find a balance between the 2 sides, you know?” She nodded. “I had that trouble too when I first started skating waxed curbs, but with time I know you can do it.” “Thanks.” “You’re welcome.” And I blushed, a dusty pink tinting my cheeks. “So what’s new? Tell me about everything, school; didn’t you say you had a brother? What’s up with him?” My visage brightened exponentially, which was crazy because I felt like I was always smiling around her. I liked talking about Cyrus, as he was a person that I could call my blood and be proud of it. Cyrus was almost a pro gamer, and he told me that he had just signed with one of the biggest names of competitive League of Legends gaming. I was happy for him, even though my parents didn’t know. “My brother’s a pro gamer, and he’s really cool too.” Claire raised a delicate eyebrow, an action that was really cute. “He plays League of Legends, which is like this pretty popular game that’s part of the eSports industry. He’s actually really good, because I heard people say he was the youngest player to ever get signed into a professional team. He’s too young now, but the team is gonna training him so that right when he hits 17, they’re gonna put him in as a starter player.” Claire looked pretty impressed, and I was even prouder of him. “And you’re parents support this? That’s really freaking cool dude! Tell him I said congrats!” My gaze darkened, and almost immediately, Claire’s grin dropped as well. “They don’t know about it.” She looked pained. “Merci…” She put a hand on my shoulder. “It’s my baby brother you know? I’m already used to it but I swear to God if they don’t let him follow his dreams I’m gonna- I’m gonna-” I sighed miserably, and the miasma of depression that usually crowded my personal space settled in again. The truth was I wouldn’t know what I would do. Cyrus was my baby brother, my kid brother in some ways, and yet other ways, it sometimes seemed like he was the older brother. He had that internal fire inside of him, the kind that Claire possessed, the kind that Eryk possessed, and the kind that I too one day hoped to possess. He was able to stand up for himself against everybody’s wishes, and I thought that was just so damn cool. That’s the real definition of a hipster. In some ways, he was as much of an idol as Claire was to me, and seeing my brother get held down by my parent’s insecurities about their own child was just so stupid. They had standards that they had set for each of us, and because I wasn’t strong enough, I filled every single one for them, and not for myself. And I wouldn’t want that to happen to Cyrus, because he deserved to be happy. He was able to think for himself at a young age, and recognize the faults that are within society right away. I sometimes wondered if he was a genius. In many ways, he was certainly the older brother that was older, wiser, and stronger. The world was a cruel and harsh place. It had one path to success that boasted billions of followers, and the path consisted of schooling and college until you were done with your major. It attempted to denounce and demean any other type of path that people took to beat the system, to become successful that way. Youtubers, artists, writers, gamers and pretty much internet content creators in general, the system hated all of them. It just wouldn’t recognize that another path would be able to retain the same or even better results that the system’s favored path would. And so, the system spread nasty and deceitful lies to attempt to belittle all these other ways, and it came in the form of parenting, of strict ruling, and of many other separatist ideals. I don’t think parents understand that stuff, you know? Like they couldn’t understand how playing video games, or creating channels on Youtube could make money that would allow their children to live in the real world. I just wanted parents to understand that their children live in a newer world, with newer ideals and technology that was different from the archaic times that they came from. Their generation was different because they were focused on the real world, and survival of the fittest. And because of that, they usually try to put their kid down for following their dreams, and only want them to focus on survival in the real world first. My parents were one such example, and it destroyed me on the inside. Honestly, sometimes the HSP personality dwelling inside me gets that they’re from another generation, and that the culture and ideals between our 2 generations were almost complete opposites, but I just couldn’t understand why they couldn’t understand us, you know? Because I know everything that they did was purely for survival. My parents were born in a cut throat generation, where everything that was done was purely for the competition of making the most money, where materialism triumphed over the appreciation of art and beautiful things. I guess I can understand where they differ in thinking from us, but I just wanted them to understand that we live in a world that was different than theirs. However, my parents, hell most parents don’t understand that and it freaking sucked. It’s just the problem in the world we live in. No one tries to understand each other, and instead, only care about themselves and their own fucking situations. I hated how selfish people were in this damned world; I could only think of a few decent people, hell, I could count them on one hand. Claire was one, obviously. My brother, the other one, and Eryk as well, and I think myself as well. It’s weird because I used to think that I was the only non decent person in the world, because I thought differently from everybody else. I used to think that since I thought in a nonconformist fashion, that I was the only lonely weird child that had no true friends. I used to be like Claire’s friend; with bouts of what I thought was depression and suicidal tendencies in an almost normal fashion. It was pretty rough, but after I met Claire, my life literally changed. I stared at her as I walked closer to the curb, and when I was almost perfectly balanced, I turned and looked up at her. A moment passed, and a brief flash of emotions colored her face for a single second. Pride. And something else that was nigh unreadable. “Hey. Everything’s gonna be fine. You’re brother’s strong, and you’re strong too.” And I believed her. “I sometimes hate my parents as well.” I nodded, and waited for her to tell her tale. I looked up at her, and something flashed in her eyes as we held eye contact. She smiled grimly, but this time, her grimace personified the harshness of the reality we lived in. She hesitated, as if she wanted to tell me something. “You know,” she began solemnly, and I could feel the mood darken drastically. It was as if a blanket of ice had wormed its way around the atmosphere, and I could practically feel the temperature drop. “You know I’m not sure why I’m telling you this. And I’ve never told anyone this before.” I was curious, and flattered. But then again, you can’t blame natural inquisition because even though curiosity killed the cat, satisfaction brought it back. And then she looked me dead in the eyes. “Have your parents ever hit you?” Whatever it was that I was expecting, it certainly wasn’t that. In my stupid little naïve world, I may have thought of her newly found courage for a confession as her way of responding to my advances, but in the end, I was totally and utterly wrong. “Um,” I said, not sure of where this was going. “No?” “Well. My dad hit me before. Four times.” I felt like I got punched. I felt all the air leave my body in a single deadly motion and I unwillingly took a step back from her. I didn’t even know what to say to that, because I mean, I didn’t expect it at all. But then again with Claire, I wasn’t sure of anything because she personified the adjective ‘revolutionary’. There was no sentence, or word, or even book that could describe the sheer amount of emotions that I felt, and I didn’t know how to express my sympathy, or my respect or whatever other emotions there were in my big stirring pot of tears to Claire. So instead, I did the only logical thing I could think of. “What?” Claire’s grim smile grew progressively darker. “The first time, it was in 3rd grade. He slapped me in the face when I didn’t want to do homework. I ran out of the house for 5 hours after that, and my neighbors had to call my parents but I refused to go home. The second and third time weren’t that important, just slaps and punches. The fourth time though, I almost had to get stitches.” I wanted to throw up. “The fourth time,” She continued ruthlessly. “The fourth time he hit me so hard on the leg with his racquet that I almost had to go to the hospital. It was all because of tennis you know? I was so done with the damn sport, and because I had my own beliefs and my own life, he decided to hit me.” I felt tears sting my eyes, and I clenched my knuckles so hard that I drew blood over the palms of my delicate skin. What the actual fuck. “I’m not even sure if it was the emotional pain, or the physical pain, but I just knew that I pretended to like tennis for 3 years after that. Whenever I lost a match, I would run to the school and stay there for hours on end because I was fucking scared to go home. You see now what I mean now? I sometimes hate my parents, I swear to God. And that’s not even the worse thing I heard. My tennis friends, oh they have it even worse than me. Because one of my friends lost a tennis match, her father pulled her to a parking lot and beat the shit out of her. She blacked out.” I wanted to cry. Honestly, I didn’t want to believe what I was hearing. Nothing made sense anymore, and I didn’t want to do shit. I thought I had it bad in the world with my parents yelling at me and pressuring me, but physical abuse was in another dimension altogether. Oh but there was more. “Another dad kicked his daughter into a wall and punched her face in.” I felt bile rise to the back of my throat. “Another dad pushed his daughter into mud. And all this is true, and all because they lost tennis matches or talked back to their parents. I would know, I’ve seen the bruises, I’ve seen the tears and the cuts and the emotional trauma. As for me, well, after a while I just stopped giving a fuck. I mean, it was only just a physical wound that wouldn’t last after I got the fuck out of the house. I don’t even care anymore. I’m just going to be me, and if he decides to hit me one more time, I’m moving out and cutting all ties with them.” I crashed to my knees as I stared up at the concrete angel in front of me. Honestly, I had no words to say to that. I was just in a state of utter and sheer disbelief. I didn’t want to believe anything she said, but the way her eyes lit up with tears was a clear indication otherwise. It was true. It was true that a father beat up his daughter just because she couldn’t conform to his beliefs. It was true that a father knocked out his daughter just because she lost a fucking tennis match. It was true that her father slapped her on the face in third fucking grade because she didn’t want to do her Goddamn fucking homework. What the fuck. Fuck everything. I honestly thought that I was the only one who was alienated by the system, and I thought I had it bad because my parents would yell at me, but now that I heard of the things Claire’s parents would do, I felt so spoiled and just absolutely terrible. I looked up at her, and all I saw was sheer strength, and the will to move mountains. I wondered how she kept on smiling, and I wondered how she even had the will to keep living after what happened to her. I used to think child abuse was an urban legend that parents made up to tell their children, and I thought that I would never see something so fucked up in my life. No matter how much my parents were mad at me, I was pretty much sure that they would never hit me, because they probably loved me. “I used to cry so damn much for tennis, all the rage, all the emotions that good old dad would feel after I lost a match would affect me, except he would take out all his emotions on me. I fucking hated it whenever I lost a match, not because I lost, but because he was pissed even though I played well and my opponent and just played better. I don’t think I can cry anymore, not because I’m strong or anything like that, but because I’ve run out of tears to cry.” I didn’t know what to say at that. I wanted to tell her that she was the strongest person in my eyes, in the world even. But honestly, I think I was just angry with her father, and how he could be furious enough to beat his own daughter simply because she lost one fucking tennis match that didn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things. I felt overwhelmed, and despair crashed into me like a tidal wave. “How do you even deal with something like that?” I whispered, half in shock, and still half in respect for her strength, with despair threatening to overwhelm me. Claire gave me a grin, a watery, broken grin, but a grin that seemed to mean hope, and better things. She grabbed my hand, and held it in hers. “Just be strong.” All my life I’ve been weak, and now, maybe I had a shot to be strong. She was so damn strong, and was an inspiration to me even at her lowest of lows. All my life, I’ve hidden behind a glass wall, the Aegis of my façade that protected my sanity and my inner thoughts from the cut throat reality from the outside world, and never before had I felt freer than in the moment now, with Claire. The moon was rising in the night. And we stood on anchored ground. She touches my arm, and I blush so nice. Well, there’s nobody around. We had stopped by a set of basketball courts in the middle school, and were currently lying on our backs like concrete angels from fallen skies. Our bodies were spread opposite of each other, and the top of my head touched the top of her head as we laid sprawled out on the anchored ground, tied to the earth by the mortality of our bodies. The sky was beautiful tonight. And endless ocean of obsidian black that hid the mystery of the galaxy above us, that surrounded us. Millions of twinkling stars burst to life among the ocean, like tiny lightning bugs that were trying to fly. Some were dull, and yet some were as luminous as the moon itself, trying to prove their worth in a beautiful vanity fair. I couldn’t see her, but I could feel her gentle respiration next to me, across from me, surrounding me. My entire world lit up in a symphony of colors whenever I’m with her, she just felt like the most perfect human being in the world, or at least, as close as you could get. I wondered if she ever got tired of her façade. I mean, she was so strong, and yet she held a façade that was even stronger than me. She held a certain type of contradiction inside of her, and it added to the mystery that was Claire Dean. I wondered if she’s ever had a nickname, and I wondered if she’s ever done anything with boys, and I wondered if she’s ever thought about me the way I thought about her, and I wondered what she actually thought of me, and I wonder if she ever thought she was a hero. You don’t know this about her But she’s a superhero Her power? She’s a shape shifter Head in the cloud, lays so low In a world full of labels She conforms Every damn day is just like Halloween One day devil horns, the next a crown of thorns She blends with the crowd Wishes to be seen It’s amazing that she hasn’t turned bad After going through so many years of neglect Being a superhero is such a drag Expected to save the day, to be perfect Those with super strength also get tired Time travelers also want to live in the moment Damn it they’re like us They don’t rule with an empire The invisible are also vibrant Superheroes deserve some fucking sentiment Oh concrete angel from fallen sky Tell me the truth darling, look me in the eyes She doesn’t like the feeling of constraint She doesn’t like the glass in her veins She’s thought about joining the other side Isn’t it better to be feared then loved? She aims to please, but no one’s ever satisfied Her mind gets darker after every move Why the fuck does she put up with this? She’s been living through hell But she refuses to give in, or even let go Even after she’s been torn There’s a strength in her that can’t be seen To restore faith in humanity, she was born She lives her life to the fullest, till the final scene That was what I thought of her, and I admire her for strength. “Let’s keep walking, let’s just go anywhere.” She said with a smile on her face as she propped herself up on her elbows and looked at me. I caught the scent of the roses in her hair, and I sat up as well. A gleam of something, an unreadable emotion flashed through her eyes as I gazed into her chocolate orbs, and I grinned back. And so we did. Chapter 9 A few weeks later, I noticed an irregularity on our street. There were more and more trucks that drove down our little street of Primrose, and I was surprised because our neighborhood was a pretty quiet neighborhood. Primrose was located in the quietest part of Woodbridge, where all the seniors lived, and perhaps that was why it was so peaceful all the time. Occasionally, you could see and hear the joy of little children running down the streets, but that was usually during the holiday seasons. And in March, it wasn’t anywhere close to the holiday seasons. You know, I was always fascinated by the seasons. Each one was supposed to represent something, and in literature, it was often used as a symbolic representation of an important motif or theme. For instance, spring was always associated the rebirth, or childhood and innocence. Summer was the passionate time of the adolescent and young adult years. Fall was the fall from innocence, but the gain of wisdom as well as humans grew older. And winter was decay, the time for you to return to the Earth. I was always fascinated with the seasons, because I think you can tell a lot from a person based on which seasons they like. Most people preferred summer or spring, because according to most people it was the time with the best weather. I, on the other hand, having been born in December, have always been obsessed with the cold, the winter’s frost. There was just something so cool about winter, I didn’t know if it was the cold, or the snow, or the rain that paired up quite well with my fashionable pessimism, but all I knew was that winter was the season where I was the most comfortable. And I wondered what Claire’s favorite season was. It was Saturday again, and Claire didn’t have a tournament so she told me we could hang out again. We couldn’t really hang out a lot during the weekdays because I had school, and she had tennis, but I would always try to catch a glimpse of the light that shone from her window a few houses past mine. I didn’t know if she felt the same way, but I really wanted to tell her. I had made great progress in skating waxed curbs just yesterday night, and I was so excited to show her because I knew she would be proud of me. I wanted to show her that I was almost ready to sing her my song, and that maybe, just maybe we could be something more than best friends. Best friends. That pair of words was something that I never actually used in my life before I met her. Every other friend I had were all too similar to the rest of them, and weren’t like Claire at all. And the only one that came close was Aileen, but she ended up being just as superficial as the rest of them after I found out she tried to be hipster because she thought being a hipster was cool, and not because she wanted to do the things she wanted to do without anyone’s influence, like Claire. I would call Claire my best friend. And I knew that she would too. I wanted to call Claire something else. And I hoped that she would too. It was an intensely sunny day, the kinda days that I just hated. It was like 90 degrees outside, and there was not a touch of refreshing black shade on the ground. Woodbridge was super strict with the rules, and it annoyed me because all the houses were the same, and there was no place for originality or personality. Which also meant you couldn’t grow trees on your front lawns. And no trees, meant hell on a sunny day like this one. Claire was waiting on her roof again, sitting back against her window with a soda in her hand, and a book in another. She had shades on, and she looked so cool just sitting there with her own black skinny ripped jean, and boots, and a white laced shirt that fit her perfectly. And from my position in front of her front door, a full 6 feet under her, she looked like an angel who came down to smite the wicked. She looked like one of those models from straight out of a magazine, or a movie scene, you know what I mean? I cupped my hands to amplify my voice. “Hey!” When she took notice of me, Claire grinned as well and motioned for me to wait. And so I did. A few moments later, she appeared from her side of the house, and opened the front door for me. Although I was taller than her, she was just like my brother in the way that she just felt so much bigger and better than me. It was almost like a student looking up to his teacher, or like a child looking up to his parents. “Hey how’s it going?” She asked with a diminutive but still noticeable grin on her angelic features. “Good good. Say, where’re your parents?” She threw her head back and gave a light chuckle. Although, for some reason, I swear I detected an underlying dark tone under the chuckle. Something was amiss. “They’ve gone out to move some stuff. Come on, we have sometime before they come back. Let’s go upstairs to my room.” That wording was odd, I thought to myself warily. However, I nodded in consent precariously and followed her up the white picket stairs to her room. And although I noticed that she’s always smelled like she’s had a rose garden in her hair, her house was like a botanical study if that was the case. The hint of roses, the scent of daisies, and the whiff of jasmine. Her house was inflorescence personified. But today, I noticed it was strangely empty, or maybe it was just a figment of my imagination. Anyways, Claire’s room was interestingly bare for a girl who I thought was the world. It was painted a creamy white, and there was a single desk, and one bed, and one window, in which I was on the other side of last time. The one particularly interesting thing about her room was the paintings. Large, small, various sizes. They were all over her room, plastered on walls, stacked on the floor. It was like I walked into LACMA on Primrose, and all of them were unique and interesting. Some looked like a toddler’s child play, and yet some contained the venerated maturity that European masterpieces in the Renaissance period crafted. I touched a simple artwork that hung just around the door, and I noticed it was hidden from view if you came into the door, and didn’t look closely enough. It was a simple sketch of black and white. Paris. The Eiffel Tower. I noticed the simple yet intricately crafted lines of pencil lead that created a beautiful masterpiece of art. It was so frustratingly simple, and yet it created a wonderful caption of the actual place itself. The drawing was centered in the frame on a piece of blank white canvas, and while Paris usually looked so vibrant, since the drawing was done with gray, it created a cool and powerful contradiction between the place itself, and the Paris as the artist saw. And on the top of the tower, where a mechanical pole stands in real life, I saw a woman. Her dark luscious hair is lightly sketched in, and the curves of her body were clearly seen. It was a woman, one who looked she was so tired of everything from the way her body sagged against the woes of the world. And yet, she still managed to look breathtakingly beautiful. I couldn’t see her face, but for some reason I could tell she was beautiful, angelic even. And for some reason, I could smell roses from the intrinsically beautiful painting. Her head was turned sideways, as if she was watching over the city of Paris, and all of France like a guardian angel from Heaven. One hand held on the railings of the tower, clutched it even, as if she clung on to dear life. I don’t know why, but that woman standing on the top of the Eiffel tower, well, she just gave me a sort of indescribable feeling, one that I knew was important to something, but at the same time was just so frustratingly out of my reach that I couldn’t grasp the notion of the idea. She was hauntingly beautiful, and simplistically symbolic. And a vine, a rose vine with leaves of dark gray emotion wrapped around the Eiffel tower like some sort of great big infrastructure system. One leaf touched the woman’s outstretched hands, and she gazed at it as if it was something wonderful, something to be treasured. And then I noticed the signature of the artist. And I realized why it looked so damn familiar. C. Dean. Claire’s drawing. I looked at the room as one hand flew over my mouth. All these drawings, all this art, they were her work. “Claire,” I whispered in a profuse mixture of amazement and awe. “Did you draw all of these?” She noticed my look, and simply laughed. However, I still noticed the light tint of rose pink that complimented the roses in her hair rather nicely. “Yeah. I’ve always liked art. Ever since I was little, my parents told me I’ve always had an affinity for drawing. Then I started getting into tennis, because my father wanted me to. And then I kinda just stopped drawing, but this is all a part of my past. I mean, I just didn’t have the heart to throw them all away you know? I’m a sap and proud of it.” I nodded, still in shock at her talent. “What about writing? Why did you decide to do that when you’re so good at drawing?” She sighed in reminiscence and something else as well. “I suppose writing came from just a need, a drive to create my own story after my parents and everybody else got so damn manipulative and controlling you know? Like, to me, there’s no such thing as freedom anymore. Sometimes, I really wanna be a bird. I envy them so much. Birds get to fly everywhere they want, and they can do whatever they want because they have wings. I suppose that’s why I always put bird imagery in my books, because I want to be like them.” I nodded. It made sense, and it also made me angry again internally. She was personified the term “caged bird”, and it made depressed that it was actually real. Because you’d think that in the 21st century in America, after we’ve come so far, you’d think that there would be some sort of freedom living in a nation whose ideals are based off of freedom and right of free choice. However, all there is today is the fucked up notion of conforming to a path that everybody else follows. “That’s really cool.” I breathed out. She shook her head with a laugh. “Thanks I think. So what do you wanna do today?” I pretended to think about it for a second. In all honesty, I didn’t know what there was to do around Woodbridge. I know it sounds cliché but, there seemed to be nothing to do around this deadbeat town, and so I guess we just had to look for thrills the way we knew how, which was skating. In the end, I just ended up asking her for her opinion. “I dunno. It’s your place, do you have anything n mind?” It was her turn to think. “Hmmmm.” She looked cute when she did that. Her eyebrows would scrunch up together, and she would get this weird duck face type of thing going. “I-” Whatever she was about to say was cut off by a loud beeping sound from outside her house. It was the bell of hell, and I had to cover my ear to stop the shock through my body system. Claire looked alarmed, but not the surprised type of alarm, the type of alarm that was brought to the surface when you expect something to happen already. We both rushed to her window, and took a quick peek outside. It was a truck, one of those trucks that I’ve seen occupying Primrose for the past few days. It was a gigantic behemoth of a car, clad in stainless steel and carrying the coat of a maroon paint job. The back of the car, where the box that carries stuff was located was all covered in a metallic steel that seemed colder than the frostbite itself. And it was pulling up onto Claire’s driveway. And then I noticed the sign. Woodbridge Moving Company. I gaped. Time froze, and I didn’t know what to do. In slow motion, I could see Claire turn away from me, and no matter how hard she tried to hide it, I still remembered this moment vividly. A lone tear, one of the few times that I’ve seen her cry because she was always so strong and resilient, slid down her face as she tried to hide it from view. However, she looked like she still wanted to tell me something and she looked as if she was prepared for this moment. My brain couldn’t comprehend what was happening, but the aching in my heart, and the drop of my stomach told me that something definitely wasn’t right here. Nothing made sense. “Claire.” I said, my breath coming out of my mouth in short gasps of air. I didn’t know if I was hyperventilating or not, and I didn’t know anything anymore. “Claire.” I said again, my voice almost broke. “What-” However, Claire was still composed, with a ramrod straight posture. If it wasn’t for the single tear that I saw trickle out of her right eye earlier, then I wouldn’t have guessed it was another façade she put up. “That’s part of the reason I wanted you to come over today. I wanted to tell you something.” I was afraid to ask, but I knew she wanted me to ask. And for the first time, I didn’t know if I wanted to talk to her. Her voice wasn’t broken like mine, and her posture was still rigid and stiff, unbent like her will. I wanted her to say something, anything that would hint that what was happening was just a big elaborate joke, and then we would’ve both laughed, and I would’ve shown her that I could skate on a curb, or at least the progress that I had made. The truth is I just felt hollow, as if something extremely valuable to me was torn out of my chest and stomped on. I wanted to curl up and die, to crawl into a little corner and cry my heart out. I started sniffling then, and a few stray tears leaked out of my eyes as well. At the sight of my tears, I saw a crack slam into her façade, and she looked away from my watery eyes. “What is it?” A brief moment of silence passed. Both of knew what was going to happen, because I was able to connect the dots in my head already. I was just playing dumb then, pretending that something like this would’ve never happened, and that happily ever after was actually tangible in real life. Time slowed to a standstill as I gazed into her pair of chocolate eyes. A single tear had made its way down her right cheek again, and it was that tear that I found myself entranced by. The tear represented so many different emotions and memories. I saw the first day that we met, underneath the lamp lit street of Primrose right after I came home from that math test failure. It was the first time I became so infatuated with her, and the scent of roses in her hair. Back then, I was just like everybody else externally, and I wasn’t strong enough to translate my inner thoughts to outer strengths. I saw the first time I made her laugh, and the first time I saw her strength and will power. I remember the adoration and respect that shot through me as I no longer only viewed her as a friend, but also an idol as well. I bit my trembling lips hard enough to draw blood as memories of the past few weeks flew through my mind like a bird. If she spoke, there could be nothing between us. If she didn’t, there still could be nothing. And so she chose the lesser of the two evils. “I’m moving away.” I had expected it, of course. I mean, I was able to connect the dots from her erratic behavior near the end of our weeks together, and her dad’s odd phrasing. He had told me to stay away from her in the time that we had left, and I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but now, in a morbid sense of fascination, it all made sense. And still, it didn’t stop or even soften the blow. The weight of her 3 words, 3 words that could’ve been so different and meant so many different things, slammed into me, and I fought off the bile threatening to rise in my throat. I didn’t know why, and I still don’t to this day, but I felt the sudden urge to burst out laughing hysterically. It was so fucking ironic. I had planned today out from head to toe in my dreams. I was going to ask her to be more than friends with me, and happily ever after was supposed to be as welcoming as a pillow. I was going to confess to her about how sweet young adolescent infatuation was supposed to be, and she was supposed to reply in kind. I was going to show her my progress in skating the curb, and I was going to tell her of my plan to sing the song I wrote for her. I didn’t think today would turn out like this, but then again, I don’t think my dreams ever did. “Why?” To her courtesy, Claire didn’t even flinch when I asked the question. She seemingly didn’t even bat an eye. “My parents want me to move away to be homeschooled. They found a better region up in Cerritos, where tennis camps are more frequent, and basically, they just said that it was a good town for tennis. They both agree that it would be a better place for me to increase my chances to get into UCI.” Her voice cracked at the end. Her façade was cracking. Already, there was a giant broken vein through the beautiful porcelain mask that she placed on herself. I didn’t know what to think of it. Hell, I didn’t know what to think of anything. I didn’t know how to deal with the entire situation, and I felt like crawling into a corner and receding into a ball and crying my heart out. I just couldn’t understand how unfair the entire world is. On one hand, I wanted her façade to break so I could see the true Claire Dean. She showed her true colors to me before, and I wanted to talk to Claire Dean, the girl who could do anything, and not Claire Dean, the girl who put on masks to hide her emotions. And on the other hand, I didn’t want it to break for all the same reason. I was scared that if it broke, I’d lose my image of her, and in that case my fascination with her ideals. I just couldn’t understand why God was so cruel in His supposedly benevolent creations, and His paths that He set out for us. After all this time with Claire, I learned that it was okay to be different and have your own feelings and emotions. It was okay to show emotion, and it was okay to do what you want because you believe what you’re doing is right. It wasn’t only okay, but it was a right because that was our greatest gift, the gift of free choice. And yet I didn’t understand how she dealt with the pressure of actually doing it. I mean, I stood up to my parents and internally believed in what I was doing was right, but I still wasn’t brave enough to actually put my heart out and say that I would be a musician for a living because I wanted to. In the real world, things came with consequences, and it wasn’t a trivial matter when you chose the path of an artist against the condemnation of everybody’s opinions. People will hate you, your parents will be distanced from you, and you will be lonelier than you’ve ever felt, and Claire was okay with that. I didn’t understand how. “How do you do it? How do you be you?” I choked out through broken sobs. I knew that it would possibly be the last question that I would ever ask her, but I needed to know the answer. And I was crying now as well, my words were slurred together through salty tears and blurry emotions. My heart felt like collapsing under its own weight, and my stomach had dropped into hell already. Fashionable pessimism suddenly didn’t seem real, and melodramatic melancholy turned into depressive sinkhole. And through our shared pain, she understood, because I knew she would. “Well,” she said as she gazed at me with as much emotion as she could. I could tell that she was trying to put a lot into these last few words. “You’re you aren’t you?” She only said that much and I could understand the message she was trying to convey. Because I was me, because I had my gift of free choice, I should be able to choose my own path. I knew that already, I mean, but hearing her say it made me feel a little bit better I guess. I didn’t have the courage to do what she did, and I guess that was the difference between me and her. She could skate a waxed curb, and perfectly balance everything. I couldn’t. “I believe in you.” The emotional dam that held the rest of the flood back all but disappeared, and I fell forwards into her embrace as I cried into her shirt for dear life. I didn’t want her to leave. I didn’t want her to go. I didn’t want her to leave me alone. I didn’t want her to leave me in this cold world, this snow globe where everything appeared so hauntingly beautiful but was so damn heartless all the same. “That’s,” I struggled to get the words out through clenched teeth and the train tracks that the falling tears were creating on my face. “But you haven’t even listened to song that I wrote for you yet.” Another crack. Another tear. And I felt the raindrops in my own hair. “Well can you skate a waxed curb now?” She shot back as she clenched her teeth as well. I felt a few more tears glimmer at the brim of her eyes, threatening to pool over as she held me. A honk resounded outside the house, and she and I both recognized her father’s Prius pulling in to the drive way. And we both knew what this meant. I didn’t know when she was leaving, but from the way her house was so chillingly empty, it would have to be soon. She didn’t have the quota of school, or the pressure of grades, and so she didn’t need to stay around here for anything. She didn’t have any ties here except for me, and her parents cut that for her with sharp daggers made of heart break. “Through the window,” she managed to choke out as we both heaved into sobbing breaths. “Go.” I cried even harder at that, my tears staining the pure white lace shirt that she had on. I had never been closer to her before, now that she held me in her arms and as I cried against the crook of her neck. I could smell the roses in her hair, her sweet scent was so achromatic, and yet so tragic. But I had never felt so far away either. She was asking me to leave her alone, and I didn’t know if I was ever going to meet her in this cruel world again. God and I had an interesting relationship, and so it wasn’t very likely we would meet again. We would both be loners again in society, and although I knew she had the strength to be herself, I didn’t know if I did. Suddenly, the rattling of a key in a keyhole was heard, and downstairs, somewhere below my used-to-be Heaven, I heard the front door unlock. I only had a few seconds left, and so I quickly pulled out of her embrace, turning away at the hurt expression that displayed on her face for a brief second. Her parents couldn’t catch me here, because if they did, they would force even more restrictions on her and I didn’t want to burden her more. I needed to leave for her. I never thought I would say that. As I lifted up the heavy window covering, I looked back. “June 16th,” I chocked on the emotions threatening to overwhelm me as I whispered. I wasn’t even sure if she heard, because she was busy trying to clean herself up before her father came into her room to get the rest of her stuff. I could hear the workers down below, already moving the furniture, packing away emotion, and disposing of the scent of roses. “Irvine Spectrum center, underneath the Ferris wheel, I signed up for a performance at 10 PM. Please.” I didn’t have the time, nor the guts to finish that sentence as Claire didn’t even acknowledge my whispered request. Perhaps it was too quiet, or perhaps she heard and was too busy through emotional distress to respond, whatever the reason, I knew I couldn’t stay. And as I let the last tear fall, I slipped out the window and didn’t look back. I wish it would rain. Chapter 10 I cried when I got home, and I cried for several hours straight. I threw things, and I flipped my chair and I screamed at the top of my lungs. My parents weren’t home because they had gone out to do their shopping with Cyrus, and they had left a note for me to start on my college applications. They wanted to know what majors I would be applying to when they got back later at night, and I couldn’t care less honestly. I was just too hung up over her. She was just a girl, they would probably say if I told them. You’re gonna get over it because you’ve only been on this Earth for 16 years, and you’re young. She’s just a girl, they would repeat, and you need to stop crying because boys don’t cry. Boys are strong and they can show no emotion. She’s just a girl, they would say for the third time, and I wouldn’t correct them because she was a girl. However, she wasn’t any girl. She was the girl that changed my life, and I would probably never see her again. She’s just a girl, and you’re gonna meet someone new because you still have the rest of your life in front of you. She’s just a girl, they would yell, and now let’s focus on more impactful and important matters, such as your choice of majors. Music. And I would mean it. She’s just a girl, they would scream, and you need to cut your damn hair. No. And I would mean it. In a frenzy of emotions, and I couldn’t decipher which from which, I rushed out of my room and sprinted downstairs into the garage. I had no idea what the hell I was even thinking, much less doing. But it felt as if some God driven instinct had taken over me, and had spirited me downstairs, taking over my body, and granting me blessed lucidity. I grabbed my board. Chipped, and scratched up and dented. I’d make her proud. The sunset was beautiful that day. Limbs of orange, florescent and pomegranate all in one, roamed over the rooftops in a tender manner of care as they tried to bask the Earth in their last warm rays before the sky beckoned the stars forwards. Everything was set ablaze in a hue of peach orange, and nothing looked the same. I lifted my arms above my eyes in an attempt to watch the dusk, as my emotions stopped their rampant rampage on my mind. I would do this for her. In a practiced motion, and through instinct, and sheer will alone, my feet were automatically pushing the board towards the curb. Hours of practice, and I didn’t understand the trick to doing the trick. I had tried everything, and I didn’t know if this one would be different. However, in my mind, I wanted it to be different. I wanted to do this for her, to show her that I was strong enough to stand alongside her and be just as strong and amazing as her. I was willing to do it now; I was willing to do everything now. I could do everything now. Push. I wouldn’t let my parents control me anymore, no matter what subject it was in. I wasn’t gonna get my hair cut, and I wasn’t gonna blindly do things they say. Push. I was gonna put down my major as music, and attend band class next year. I was gonna follow my dreams for the first time in my life, and nothing was gonna stop me. Push. Can you see me? You’re only a couple houses away. Pop. Jump. Land. I looked back, and all I felt was the grinding of the curb against the bottom of my battle scarred board as I successfully skated a waxed curb. It was the same curb that she had waxed only a week ago, and it was the same curb that I had practiced on over and over again. The feeling of exhilaration, the feeling of pride, the feeling of a nostalgic regret immediately followed up by the feeling of pure unadulterated freedom. I had done it. Over the roar of triumph and the blood rushing in my body, I heard the beep of my parent’s car. They had come back, and they had been expecting my answers. I smiled grimly. I knew exactly what I was going to say, and do, and no matter what they said about it, I wasn’t going to back down. I didn’t care if they disowned me, if they slapped me or screamed at me, I just wanted to be like Claire, to be my own person. I would be Mercedes. I would be me for me.

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