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  1. *hey it’s me with my crappy writing again. I don’t even know why I’m doing this. and before you can silently reprimand me for the insane level of cheese in these parts alone, I know it’s cliche, I know I suck at dialogue, yada yada. but here ya go. this is so big but idk I guess you’ll be able to sort of understand the storyline?? it seems really rushed and forced and random I guess but that might be because I tried to take out the parts with the worst writing. e n j o y...* ***tw: self harm mention, transphobia and homophobia mention*** Everything is going well. Jade, school. First period, math, was good. But as soon as I walk into English, I notice something: my two ex best friends. Uh...can I panic now? Kyra, the brunette, is defined by her bright blue eyes and the excessive amount of dark eyeshadow surrounding them. It makes her look much paler than she already is. Caroline has small, drab brown eyes. Her average face, however, is made up for by the shining saffron hair she ties into a proud ponytail every day. It’s perfectly straight and almost down to her waist; a shifting sheet of pale rose gold. We used to be so close, all of us. No one ever had to third wheel. I remember back in jr. high school when Kyra had braces and tiny boobs and Caroline’s hair was always split at the ends. None of us wore makeup because we agreed it must be annoying to do every day. At many of our sleepovers, we watched Hairspray on Kyra’s TV and belted along with “You Can’t Stop the Beat” because it was our favorite and we knew all the words. Things were so much simpler then. It was movies and books and graphic tees with bad puns on them. It was messing up each other’s hair and laughing our ugly laughs and stressing over pimples on picture day. I wasn’t caught up inside my head all the time back then, Caroline was still in her “I hate boys” stage, and Kyra planned every kind of adventure for our weekends because we just had this sort of unspoken love. We were innocent. Things were simple. It was beautiful. Now they’re here, raising flirtatious, filled in eyebrows at every cute guy in the room. They’re different people. It almost frightens me, and my chest tightens, because what did I miss? When did they become...this? And why? It strikes me that we’ve changed -- all three of us. But I don’t think that’s a good thing in any of our cases. Certainly not theirs. Certainly not mine. … At the end of the period, when I’m putting my things back into my backpack, Kyra and Caroline approach me again. I don’t know why they’re so determined to talk to me, but it’s not like I can just walk away. I don’t want to be rude. “Hey Alya. We haven’t seen you in so long.” “Hi,” I say weakly. Kyra’s flashing cerulean eyes flicker down to the ground. “Y’know.” Caroline this time. “Thanks for being in our group, I guess. You’re really good at English.” She doesn’t know that the highest grade I’ve gotten on an essay is a low B, but I’ll let her believe whatever she assumes. “Thanks.” “What class do you have next?” Kyra asks, and I can't help but be surprised. They're actually being friendly to me. They're actually trying. The question is, are they trying again? Do they really want a new start? “I have orchestra,” I say, lifting my viola case a little awkwardly. That's stupid, they've obviously already seen it. The bell rings, and I jump. Caroline gives me a half wave, saying, “See you, I guess,” and they turn left out of the classroom. I go right. So after all this time, after years of being alone, I'm finally noticed by them again. But why do I feel like I don't want to be? … ... … My dad works for an advertising company. You’d never guess it, but he’s the guy who pitches ideas and comes up with funny, alliterative slogans for products no one’s ever heard of before. I've seen a lot of the things he's done, and they're actually pretty good. Sometimes it's hard to believe that that writer and my dad are the same man. When I get home after school’s over, he's in his office, like always. I've seen the inside of that room and it's -- well, it's chaos. His desk sits in the middle of it all, a big, heavy, mahogany thing that really doesn't seem to belong in our house. It's like a centerpiece to the madness; carved and dark and serious. He keeps it sparkling clean and never lets a speck of paint touch it. Around it there are pencils, paper, pens, sketchbooks, paint brushes, charcoal, and basically every other imaginable art supply. Everything is strewn about as if a robber came during the night and ransacked the place. His walls are covered, too, taped with rough drafts, second drafts, outlines, and sketches. They're all plastered on there at least three sheets deep -- I think if I were to tear it all off, the entire coat of paint would come with it. He doesn't let me in, though. He says there's a sort of manic organization to it. Maybe he knows where everything is, maybe it makes sense to him. I don’t know. Anyway, he's in his office when I get home. The house is silent. As if I’ve been doing this every day, I fall easily into my after school routine, doing any homework (none today), emptying my backpack, and then taking a short shower. As soon as I step out of the steamy bathroom, however, my dad starts yelling at me from downstairs. “Alya! I need to talk to you!” I pause, startled, and draw the towel tighter around me. I ask warily, “About what?” “It’s...your mom. Come down.” He sounds nervous, bothered. I don’t want him to pin his irritation on me, so I throw on some mismatched pajamas and race downstairs. Standing outside his closed office door, I start, “What do you need to --” His door creaks open with a wailing screech and I cringe. “She’s on the phone. She wants to talk to you.” I take the phone from his outstretched hand, catching only a glimpse of the room’s interior: a vivid blur of primary colors, centered by the spotless desk my dad is standing in front of. His dark face is drawn and worried, black eyebrows slanted in thought, lips a taught line. The door closes before I can see more. I look down at the phone in my hand and bring it to my ear. This shouldn't be daunting, and yet my throat is dry and closing up and I feel like I want to run away. “Hi.” My voice shakes a bit, why does my voice shake? “Alya,” says my mom, with a false air of cheeriness. I know it’s fake. I’ve learned what fake sounds like. “How are you, sweetie?” Sweetie. She still wants to call me that? Why does she think she has the right? “I’m fine.” Fine. Why do I always lie and say fine? Why is it always “fine” and “good” that come out of my mouth, even when I’m really just the opposite? “That’s...good,” my mom says awkwardly. “How’s school so far? Do you like it?” “Today was the first day,” I reply, wondering why she won’t just get to the point. She’s not one to call just to chat. There’s a pause for a couple seconds. I don’t breathe. “Oh. Your dad didn’t say anything about that.” “I don’t think he cares,” I respond bluntly, because at this point it doesn’t matter if I’m delicate or not. Her opinion just isn’t relevant anymore. “Oh.” She clears her throat. “But...I do. I do care.” I bite back a “yeah, right,” and wait for her to keep going. “Look, Alya,” she starts, and I roll my eyes even though she can't see. “I...haven't seen you a lot, except during the summer once. I'd like to talk with you more, see you…” she trails off, wary. In a way, she sounds almost childlike, scared that I'll turn her down. I don't know what to think. My mom’s always been independent; she was born in Arizona and has longed to move elsewhere for so long. I don't know why she suddenly wants to see me. Being essentially absent from my life for all of jr. high school plus the past three years, we hardly know each other at all. Suddenly I feel bad for acting bitter towards her. And for some incomprehensible reason, I say, “Okay.” Laughing a little, her distorted voice sounds relieved. She replies, “Good. Your dad said you could come over for dinner tonight. I'll see you, Alya.” She hangs up on me. I start to question why I ever accepted. … … … My mom appears at the other end of the front hallway and we both freeze. Still. Strangers, strangers who for some reason want to see each other, make things right...is that what she wants? (Is that what I want?) I take a deep breath and face my mom. She looks absolutely nothing like me -- all pale features, with blonde hair and green eyes and a splash of freckles across her nose. I inherited most of my dad’s looks. Dark hair, dark eyes, and a sort of coffee with two creams skin tone. My hair is kinky and wild, cut to shoulder length, while my mom’s is simple and thin and light, just like the rest of her. I have her nose, though; small and slender as opposed to my dad’s wide one. My parents are basically polar opposites. Looking back six years, to when they were still together, it’s almost hard to picture the past. I can only faintly remember the time when I still had a “normal” family. When my parents were still in love. “Hi, Alya,” she says, smiling, and motions for me to come closer. I do. The kitchen’s behind her -- it looks as if she’s already set out plates. It’s at this moment that I realize, I’m not even hungry. … ... … We finish eating and my mom takes my plate. As she places them in the sink, the clatter seems obscenely loud in the still air. We’ve been silent for so long. I fidget, uncomfortable. My mom -- to my surprise -- reaches into a black purse that’s on the table and produces a single cigarette. “Alya, sweetie, you don’t smoke, do you?” she asks offhandedly, and I worry that she’s going to try to get me addicted. “No, I don’t.” She holds it between her teeth and lights it. “Good,” she says. “It’s bad for your health.” I follow her outside and we sit next to each other on the front steps in silence. She takes a long drag and I realize that I don’t even know why I’m still here. My mom lights a new cigarette at one point. It’s very, very late when I leave. … ... … Jade and I share excited smiles the entire bus ride home. We're going out tomorrow -- this weekend, we've planned a sort of weekend-outing-road trip thing that probably hasn’t been planned all that well but has me crazily excited anyway. It's just the two of us. We packed lightly for Saturday night, just clothes and phones and money and some other little things. I left a note for my dad this morning saying that I wouldn't be back until Sunday morning, but I don't really care if he finds it or not. This whirlwind of exhilaration that being with Jade brings kind of distorts my sense of responsibility; things that I would normally stress over don't matter that much. I can't decide if this is entirely a good thing. I despise my stupid anxiety, though, so for the tonight and tomorrow, I'm going to try my hardest to let go. That's always easier said than done for me. But with Jade...the sun gets a little brighter, the sky a little more vivid. And I finally feel wanted. … Friday night passes as slowly as possible, and when morning finally comes, I am slinging my bag over my shoulder and jogging down the street to Jade’s house. Last minute, irrational anxiety is burned away by adrenaline -- and I'm glad. Before I know it, they are slamming down on the gas and we are flying over the road, windows rolled down to their limits and wind whipping my hair every which way. I close my eyes and just feel the wild crash of air, in my bones and my body and in the pale indigo sky above us. Everything is beautiful. I hear Jade laughing next to me, so I turn my head to look -- they’re gorgeous, warm tumbling waves backlit by the golden sun and blue eyes flashing. Eyes on the road and on me at the same time, they are drinking it all in, breathing Arizona, feeling the world. I adore this. There’s music playing on the radio in the car -- it’s one of those songs that just screams road trip. I sort of prefer the roar of the wind to anything, though; it’s hard to explain, but this moment just seems eternal and glorious all on its own. I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else right now. That thought reminds me of my junior year for some reason. As I stare out the window, I try to recall what I might have been doing on this day a year ago. Studying, reading, sleeping, working -- if someone had told me then that I’d be racing down a country road with hair blowing across my eyes in the passenger seat of a ‘78 Volvo and experiencing possibly the most perfect moment of my life, I’d have laughed. Jade starts singing along with the radio. Realizing I know the song, I join in, beaming so wide it must look idiotic. I don’t give a damn. A forever that still wasn’t long enough later, we pull into a parking spot at the Four Corners Park. I’m breathless and exhilarated and for some reason, I can’t look Jade in the eye. They smile, lock their car, grab my hand, and we start towards the monument. It doesn’t strike me until later, however, that to any passerby, we must look like a couple. All I’m really focused on at the moment is the green of the trees, the soft cotton candy clouds, and the warmth of Jade’s hand in mine. It’s just so wonderful; any worries or doubts or sadness I’ve had in the past feel so far away. I only wish they’d go away for good. If I could live the rest of my life just travelling the state, no, the world with Jade, I’d be content. Content is such a beautiful, beautiful daydream -- I have bursts of happiness sometimes, like right now. But in the long run I haven’t been so lucky. Cheer up, Alya. Live in the present. Find joy in the little things, like Jade’s soft fingers brushing against your own, like the clouds turning a dusty pink in the sun, like the trees swaying gracefully in the light breeze. Today is a perfect day; make the most of it. … ... … Our day has been so wonderful so far; I don't think anything could go wrong. It starts to get much warmer approaching midday. I don’t think much of it, until we’re almost finished our lunch and I feel my arms sticking to the insides of my jacket sleeves -- ew. Unthinking, I pull off my jacket and tie it around my waist. It feels so much better to be wearing short sleeves; I sigh contentedly as a cool breeze rushes over my arms and tickles the back of my neck. This is perfection. Jade and I wander around in the town, taking photos and pointing out interesting things like the flower box outside a boutique, or the artsy chalkboard displaying a cafe’s soup du jour, or the tree that is knotted and gnarled in some twistedly gorgeous way. But of course, not everything can be perfect. I’m too stupid to realize that this day is too good to be true. My jacket is still tied around my waist, so my arms are bare. Caught up in myself, in the day, I haven’t noticed this at all. Jade does. Jade sees my bare arms: smooth light brown skin on the right; and on the left, zigzagging pink scars of every length. Scars that still bring back specific memories. Scars that I put there. Of course. ...Of course. Shit. They are all there, and Jade most definitely saw them. I don’t know what made them look at my arm. I don’t know. But -- “Alya,” they say suddenly, alarm and concern pinching at the edges of their voice. They stop walking and look from my arm to my face to my arm then back to my face. “Do you -- are you --is that --” For once, they are at a loss for words. I stepped back and instinctively covered my arm with my other hand, but that only drew their eyes to it again. “Nothing,” I mumble “it’s nothing.” It’s obviously something. Jade seemed to get their words back, to some extent at least. “Alya, I’m worried about you. You can tell me whatever you need to -- if you don’t want to talk, that’s alright,” they add, “but I’m -- I’m worried.” “It's okay,” I mumble, humiliated. “It's over.” Suddenly the sky doesn't seem so brilliantly blue anymore. After a couple seconds, Jade bites their lip and looks me right in the eye. “Okay. Look, why don't we go to our hotel room, rest for a bit. We've been walking around all day.” They put a tentative hand on my shoulder. “If you want to talk we can.” They just leave it at that. … When we get to our hotel room, I immediately put down my bag, step into the bathroom, wash off my makeup and get in the shower. The water is a thin, hardly adequate stream, but it’s hot and feels good anyway. I stand under it for a long time. Jade probably thinks I’m stalling before I have to face them. I probably am. I stare blankly down at my arm as water runs in rivulets across the thin scars. The reality of the situation is finally setting in, slowly and painfully. Jade wasn't supposed to know this. No one was. No one ever was. I’m an idiot to think I could keep this hidden forever. If I ever wanted to get close to people, form friendships, relationships...well, it was inevitable. If I ever wanted to fall in love and pursue something, I couldn’t have just kept this in the shadows. It’s there both physically and emotionally. It never really will go away and anyone who gets close to me will have to see my ugly side sooner or later. So I swallow my emotions, put on some pajamas and a sweatshirt, and go back out to talk to my friend. … ... … For a little bit after our awkward exchange we're just quiet, listening to cars beeping and moving outside, birds singing, wind rustling yellow leaved trees. This isn't how I pictured our day ending, not at all, but it's okay. I'm beginning to realize that it's okay. It gets me thinking a little. About the past, when I cut. The thing is, it excited me, in a dangerous sort of way. Because sometimes I just needed to...to stop existing I guess. I just need a break sometimes. A break from life. And there in that sharp, concentrated pain, I could just fade away for a bit. I could stop existing and then come right back when I’m maybe feeling a little better. I know, I'm selfish as hell, it's not good for me. I know. I knew -- but I couldn't stop. But eventually I forced myself to. I ignored the pull of the razor in that empty, beat up pencil case under my bed and tried so, so hard to take care of myself. Then Jade came along, and I wanted -- want -- to exist a lot more. There’s reason, now, to stay away from that case, besides just my eroding resolve. I have this light in my life who is motivation to be better, for their sake and mine. And now because I swore to them I’d stay away -- I have a promise to keep. ... ... … Frowning, Jade asks, “Do you want to see her more? It sounds like she wants to get to know you.” “No --” I say instinctively, then cut myself off. “I mean...I don’t know.” Once these words come out of my mouth, I begin to realize the truth in them. Honestly, I don’t know how to feel about my mom and...whoever she’s become. I hardly know her anymore. I guess I’m curious, in some sort of way, though; I’m bitter and yet I have this want to see her again. It confuses me. She confuses me. I confuse me. Jade is like my rock in the middle of this tempest. “Hey,” Jade says, softly. “I'm glad you felt that you could tell me all this. I never want to force anything out of you, but I want you to know that whatever happens, I'm here.” They shift their position on the bed and look up at me. “I...I know what it's like to be distant from a parent. It sucks, it really does.” I'm not breathing. I've always just assumed that Jade has a perfect family. I don't really know why “When...when I came out. As genderfluid. It was actually just last year.” Jade swallows visibly, and I nod, encouraging. I never knew how long they’d been out, but it had never really mattered, I guess. They're themself now. And that's all that I really ever needed. Taking a deep breath, they continue. “My mom was cool with it. I had told my brother a little bit about how I was...confused, a couple months before. But my dad...he's not really...approving of that kind of thing. Y’know, there's always those kinds of people. You really can't get away from them. But I had never expected him to be one of them. It had never come up, surprisingly, in any of our conversations...stuff on the news...that kind of thing. But it turns out he's pretty transphobic, homophobic, and all that. You'd never guess -- he's not vocal about it. When I came out to him, though, he...he kind of...flipped. Verbally, I mean, he wasn't violent, but…” Jade glances quickly away from me, but not before I see unshed tears quivering in their eyes. Silently, I take their hand, not knowing what to do. “I used to be so close to him. And now he ignores me, or makes stupid...stupid, insensitive comments. The worst part, though, was when he’d...he just calls me his daughter, and I --” Suddenly Jade chokes on their words and starts to cry. It’s all I can do to take their limp form in my arms and whisper comforts that are probably empty. If I had to guess, I’d say that they’ve never actually let themselves cry over this. So I only hold on tighter. “It’s okay,” I whisper, even though we both know it’s not. “It’s gonna be okay.” Jade takes a shaky breath and mumbles into my shoulder, “I’m so sorry -- I didn’t mean to make all this about me --” “Shh,” I say quietly. “I know. I know.” “I just wanted to -- to show you that I understand. I’m not perfect either --” “I know.” And really, I’m beginning to see that. I think I used to idolize Jade; I assumed that they were perfect in every way possible and could never be at fault. I wondered how someone as put together as them could see any virtue in someone like me. But everyone, no matter how beautiful or handsome or kind or funny they seem to be on the outside, everyone has shortcomings and weak spots and insecurities. The people who are another person’s idea of a perfect student or an amazing friend could be the ones whose families are falling apart, whose resolves are being eroded by crippling self hate, whose lives are consumed by depression. Jade isn’t perfect. I’m far from it too. And now that we both see that in each other, it makes life a little less confusing. I feel a little safer. Our imperfections are what make us human. Beautiful, strange, compassionate, flawed, abstract, emotional, quirky, bold, luminescent; human. I see that. I do, I really do; my trouble is that I just can’t seem to believe it would ever apply to me. I hug Jade tighter. They’ve stopped crying, but we hold on anyway, as if one of us letting go would cause the other to fly into a million intangible pieces. We fall asleep just like that.
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