Author: whats-with-humans PM
Zoe is what one would call “difficult.” Or possibly even “antisocial.” In fact, one might go as far as “so beaten down by life that there’s hardly any hope for civility in her.” However, love has a funny way of turning peoples’ lives upside-down.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Humor - Words: 4,969 - Reviews: 6 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 1 - Published: 12-30-05 - id: 2079372
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A/N: Hey, anyone who happens to be reading this! This is the first story I'm posing on this site and I'd really, REALLY appreciate reviews. Please enjoy!
Rated T for language
I'm not the most sensitive person. For years, friends and family have accused me time and again of being "mean" or "selfish." This isn't the case; I'm neither mean nor selfish. I'm just…well, I suppose that one day I just got sick of people and all their little quirks and after that…it never occurred to me to try picking up where I'd left off as far as caring goes.
"I swear, if I hear 'Baby love' one more time, I'm gonna start kicking some serious ass," I promised. It seemed that heinous tune was starting over every five minutes. My brain was starting to fold in on itself in a desperate attempt to escape the pain.
"It makes people happy," Chelsea reminded me.
"No, it makes people want to rip out their eardrums," I contradicted with all my sourness. And that's a hell of a lot of sourness, believe me. "I'd say that's a far cry from 'happy.'"
"Well, the only ladies besides us pathetic wretches who work here are ninety-nine years old and falling apart at the seams, so an ass kicking would probably fall under the 'lethal' category." She studied her reddish-purplish nails and mulled over the matter in distaste. "Actually that might be doing them a favor." She made a rather unpleasant face and propped her boot-clad feet on the arm of the chair of which she was perched on the back.
How the hell did such an unpleasant girl get this yarn-and-paste-centered job anyway? Oh, did I not mention that? The three of us worked at a hobby store; the most popular one in a twenty-mile radius, actually, which guarantees that we were busy all the time. We were now taking our sixth unscheduled break of the four-hour-long work day. I wouldn't be surprised if all three of us were decapitated by our manager by sunset.
"Could we focus? Please?" Raemi whined, and reached for more tissues.
I winced and turned back to her, trying to remember that she was a bit distraught. But then, Raemi was always a bit distraught; she was the most sensitive girl on the face of the Earth. Then again, she was my friend, and it was generally considered rude to be a negligent jackass to a friend.
"Oh Raemi," I comforted, putting my hand on her shoulder. "You were just on different pages, that's all." My voice was the epitome of gentle care. Really, it sucks to see a friend hurt, we all know that. "There will be other guys." Cliché, I know, but with Raemi, that was a sentiment which had enough power to burst through any funk in which she was caught. She loved the prospect of more and more boys. Personally, I thought that sounded like hell, but what do I know? I thought the prospect of any large number of humans was enough to make the flesh crawl.
Chelsea made a vulgar gagging sound at my attempt to help a friend, and I whirled on her. The girl was more annoying than a nosy monkey on a cold Saturday morning when you're trying to sleep in and all he wants to do is steal your blankets and hit you over the head with a banana. And we all know how annoying that is.
"Shouldn't you be braiding hair or playing hopscotch or something?" I demanded, glaring at Chelsea. She was almost as old as I was (that is to say, in the sixteen-and-a-half-area) but she looked (and acted) like a twelve year old. Except scary.
She wasn't too young, however, to return my sarcasm with a rather rude gesture.
"I really, really liked him though!" Raemi insisted, bringing my attention back to its rightful place.
The poor girl had been rejected. She was just too boy-crazy for her own good.
"Raemi," I began hesitantly, and crouched down next to her chair. "I'm going to give you some advice, okay? And you know that I'm telling you this because I'm your friend?"
The poor girl nodded with a look so pathetic it reminded me of a drowning kitten. I continued.
"I know that you love…well…fishing for guys, right?"
She nodded with a half-formed, bleary smile.
"Well, I think that, just maybe, you might be using the wrong methods."
"What do you mean?" she sniffled, and took the liberty of using the sleeve of my sweater as a tissue when she thought I wasn't looking. What a sweet child.
"She means," Chelsea interjected, leaning forward eagerly in all her dark, I-will-eat-you-glory, "that while it's conventional to use a fishing rod, you tend to jump out of the boat and tackle the fish."
My lip quivered as I tried not to laugh, a rather vivid mental image flashing through my mind, but I managed to draw Raemi's attention away from the evil Chelsea and back onto me. "Sweetie, it's just that…well, sometimes when you're fishing, even if you don't realize it, you put on a fish suit. But…" I winced. "It's not a very good fish suit, and the fish aren't too impressed, so to them you're just…well…"
"A human girl dressed up like a fish?" Raemi suggested pathetically. Her big brown eyes drooped.
I nodded. "And you're so pretty as a human," I complimented, tapping the end of her nose, "that you just look silly when you're trying to be a fish." Insensitive my ass. I'm a freaking goddess of friendship. Someone should give me an award for all this kindness I was dishing out. My only concern was that my nice-supply was running on fumes. Eh, no problem. I'd go home and abuse my evil sister-in-law. Oh don't act so affronted; I would have done it anyway. I continued advising Raemi on the problem at hand. "So by the time you cast out your line-"
"The fish," Chelsea interrupted, "are all too busy laughing at you to…erm…take a bite of your bait, if you know what I mean?" She wiggled her eyebrows.
And we did know what she meant, unfortunately.
Oh crap. Busted.
There was our manager, standing in the doorway of the workroom, looking nothing short of livid. As in, capable-of-homicide-livid. As in, I-sear-to-God-I'll-dump-your-bodies-in-the-river-and-never-look-back-livid. That was probably justified, I had to admit. However, I wasn't too worried. It would pass.
"I really wish," our boss, Ms. Garson, began, "that I had your incredible ability to throw off responsibility in favor of doing whatever the hell you like. It seems a lot less stressful than the alternative. But if you don't get out there in ten seconds, you can all find other jobs so that other people can waste their money paying you for doing nothing!"
The woman, forty-six years old, was perpetually three inches away from a heart attack.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Garson," I said, standing up. "We'll get right back to work."
The Boss let out a sigh, and slinked back out into the store, defeated. The woman couldn't hold an argument to save her lonely life. My theory was that she memorized one pathetic speech per scolding-session which is why she never insisted on rubbing in the guilt after I'd made at least one pathetic attempt to avert her anger.
"Brat," Chelsea accused. "Liar! Patronizing jerk!"
"What? I am sorry!" I insisted. "I'm sorry because she's a middle-aged woman with no social life to speak of, whose main diet most likely consists of TV dinners, and who probably hasn't had a date in the last twenty years. That's not a good enough reason?" I gave a sarcastic grin.
Yeah, this isn't the "pity me, I'm so emo, I want everyone to die- no wait, scratch that, I want everyone to love me" kind of hostility I harbored. This was the "life is really fucking cruel" kind of hostility. One day, a couple years back, I just completely snapped. I'd borne one too many burdens and I simply collapsed. Never been the same since then. Never been particularly kind, either.
Chelsea rolled her eyes. "You really are a bitch. Ms. Garson is a genuinely nice-"
"Oh spare me!" I interrupted. "What the hell would you know about being nice?"
"More than you, you sadist!"
"Girls," Raemi complained. "Can we please not fight?"
"Me, a sadist! Ha! Aren't you the one who set a poor, defenseless squirrel's tail on fire?"
"Dammit, I told you that was an accident!"
"Oh yeah right! Torturing animals is an early sign of sociopathic tendencies, you know."
"It came out from nowhere and ran into the lighter!"
"Which you lit and put in its path!"
"I'm going back to work," Raemi interjected, wiping at her still-dripping eyes. "If anyone cares to do the same, I'll see you out in the store."
Of course, the two of us followed her out the door, snapping at each other the whole way.
Okay, so maybe I didn't deserve that award after all; maybe I wasn't so great with people. But why be good with people? They're going to form opinions you can't control no matter what you do.
So why bother?
"I'm not paying four dollars for a product which was marked two-ninety-nine," the woman insisted.
I must have been going insane; I must have been imagining things. After all, I couldn't possibly be having this conversation; it just couldn't be happening. I closed my eyes and rubbed them hard against my palms. Sure enough, when I opened my eyes, the woman (who couldn't have been less than ninety-five years old) was still arguing with me over one dollar and one cent. It was a crapping pack of glue sticks!
"Ma'am, that sticker was just left on from an old sale. See, there, it says clearly that the sale expired over four weeks ago." Goddamn I have a lot of patience. I've changed my mind. Give me the stupid award. I deserve it.
"No, no," the ancient woman insisted, shaking her head and smacking her toothless gums in a most disturbing fashion. "No…no, no."
I put my face in my hands and considered asking her politely to stop with the gums-thing. It was creeping me out.
In desperation, I grabbed the store phone and pressed the few key buttons which would broadcast my voice across the store. "Paging an ounce of pity, could an ounce of pity please come to check-out counter number four?!" I slammed the phone back into place and smiled grimly. "Someone will be along shortly." Would this woman last that long? If I gave her shoulder a shove would her arm fall off? Would the pressure clot her blood, sending her into a raging heart attack? And why were they called liver spots when they resided on her forehead?
I drummed my fingers against the counter and shivered at the glare the crazy old loon was giving me. Old people sure knew how to be creepy.
In no time at all, Travis, my fellow employee, showed up, and I was impossibly glad to see him. "Travis!" I cried, "My shift is over, I'm going home. This nice lady needs you to check her out; have a nice evening!"
I broke into a jog, stripping off the bright red vest which identified me as an employee (aka someone whose time it was fun to waste with pointless questions) as if I'd just learned it was infested with Ebola particles.
In the back room, I threw my vest into my cubby, clocked out, and left, rather proud of myself for managing to get through the entire process without saying a word or being stopped by anyone. I began my long walk home.
People at school thought I was a bitch. I'd only been there six months, but they all did. And it had taken me that long to realize that they were almost right.
Back home, when I'd acted the way I do, people had known that I was just being…me. That's how I am. I'm outgoing, but I'm not particularly friendly. End of story.
But not with these people. They loved to gossip about me. Why?! My life was one boring non-event after another. It wasn't even good gossip; it mainly consisted of "Oh my god, Zoe Bellini is such a bitch! One time, she told me to go fuck myself just because I asked her the time."
Which isn't true, of course. If I wanted to be rude to someone just for asking me the time, I'd just ignore them. I'd told her to go fuck herself because she'd been trying to give me tips on how to make my hair look "a little less ratty" in the morning. First of all: it's just plain rude to give a complete stranger beauty tips. Second of all: my hair is not ratty!
I sat down at my regular lunch table with Raemi and Chelsea. Yeah, I know, it's unbelievable that we're actually school friends, right? But the thing is, I don't talk to anyone else, so they're kind of friends by default. It's actually not surprising that Chelsea and I are friends. She's like me, only flashy and…well…leather-and-fishnet-clad. Raemi is actually the odd one of the group. She's a senior and fairly popular (I guess that comes with being sweet, pretty, and a moron), so she could sit with just about anyone. But she sits with us. What a weird girl.
"Hey, babe, how about you and me Friday night?"
I rolled my eyes. Raemi sure worked fast. I didn't even have to look up from my oddly green school-issued mac and cheese to know that Raemi was probably plastered against whoever had done the asking by now.
"Raemi, could you take your suitors somewhere else? I'm having enough trouble subduing my gag reflex against this disgusting lunch as it is."
"Earth to moron," Chelsea insulted in standard Chelsea fashion. "He was talking to you."
"Geh?!" was the sound I made as I looked up to see that the guy leaning with his hands on our table was, in fact, looking at me. No. Leering. He was leering at me. He gave me a slimy grin. Actually, he was fairly attractive. In an unnerving, grease-monkey kind of way. What was this need boys felt to empty entire bottles of gell onto their heads each morning to create some spiky, asymmetrical design? Had he really just called me "babe?" What decade did he think we were in?
"Who the hell are you?" I asked, forgetting my manners. Not that remembering them would have changed my reaction.
"Charlie Douglas," he introduced himself, and held out his hand to me.
"Yeah, whatever. Get lost, okay? I'm trying to eat lunch."
For some reason, his grin just grew. I will never understand males.
"Not until you agree to go out with me this Friday."
"You're insane," I accused. "And unfortunately for you, I don't date crazy people. Now piss off." I speared some noodles and shoved them in my mouth. Oh, wow. Yuck. Really yuck.
"Well you're about to start. I got your address from the school directory. I'll pick you up at seven, Friday night."
"Look," I demanded, accenting my speech by pointing at him with my plastic spork. "I'll ignore for a second that it's seriously creepy that you now know where I live in favor of pointing out that I don't know you, and I have less than no desire to change that. I certainly don't know why the hell you'd want to go out with me. I don't know what made you think that I would swoon when you assumed that I want you. I don't know why you think that it's in any way appropriate to interrupt a girl's lunch, call her 'babe,' of all things, and demand that she date you if she wants to eat lunch in peace. I do, however, know that you're going to leave me alone right now, and I know that if you show up at my house on Friday, I'll call the police."
He looked downright lovestruck (maybe he was a masochist?) and pulled out a chair to sit down. I couldn't believe my eyes. What a schmuck!
"It's because you're hot."
I shook my head rapidly, as if that would help dispel from my brain what I could not possibly have just heard. "Excuse me?"
"You didn't know why I want to go out with you. It's because you're hot."
All was silent. I wondered if my face was slowly turning red like an old fashioned thermometer. My fists clenched, and I snapped. "Get the hell away from my table before I do future humanity a favor and make sure that you're permanently unable to reproduce!"
He jumped, and scrambled to his feet, eyeing the spork in my hand. "Just one date!"
"Scram!" I screamed.
And that was the end of Charlie Douglas. Thank God.
I went back to my mac and cheese. It tasted slightly less disgusting. Hmm. Maybe I should make it a habit to yell at people once a day. It seemed to make the world taste just a little bit better.
So, apparently, this Charlie Douglas guy is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I'm not fooled. By sliced bread, I mean. Oh come on, it tastes exactly the same! Be thankful for the frigging bread-knife! In any case, this guy didn't seem as hot as everyone says. In fact, he seemed unnervingly like a lost little boy, like every other teenage male in the hellish establishment traditionally known as "school."
Apparently, having been asked out by Charlie Douglas, lost little boy or not, makes me one of the most talked about girls around.
Apparently, I'm a local high school celebrity. Who knew?
Apparently, Charlie Douglas is rather persistant, as he's been showing up everywhere (and I mean everywhere) I've been. Short of my apartment. I think he actually believed my threat to call the cops on him. Smart boy.
"What the hell do I have to do to get rid of you?!" I cried, slapping more paint-by-numbers-kits onto the stack. I threw down the last one and spun to face Charlie Douglas, who had somehow found out where I work and cornered me in the kids' painting isle.
"Isn't it obvious?" he asked, clearly expecting me to be charmed by his show of putting his hands in his pockets and staring at me in that I'm-a-puppy-dog-fashion. Yeah, not gonna happen. "Charmed" isn't my thing. I don't do "charmed." He waited for me to respond.
I'd rather have eaten my own liver than encouraged him to continue.
He took the initiative to continue without an invitation. "You only have to go on a date, one single date, with me."
"Not gonna happen. Now, I suggest you get out of my store. Unless, of course, I can help you find anything you're looking for?" I picked up my stack of to-be-shelved items and gave him a sardonic smile.
"Yeah, actually, I'm looking for a chance at successfully asking you out."
"Hmm…" I tapped a finger against my bottom lip. "Nope, sorry, we don't sell complete impossibilities here. However, I could call one of our sister stores and ask if they have any in stock!" I batted my eyes for added effect.
"Have I mentioned lately that I just love your sarcastic sense of humor?" he asked, and there was real exhaustion in his voice. Thank God; maybe he'd leave me the hell alone soon.
I rolled my eyes and squeezed past him in the narrow isle to go stock paintbrushes.
He followed me.
What a creep.
"You know, Charlie Douglas-"
"Just Charlie is fine."
"Whatever! As I was saying, I'm going to kick you out of the store pretty soon," I informed him. "Unless, of course, you'd like to leave on your own with a shred of dignity."
"Why not? Look," he insisted, and stepped directly in front of me (between me and the paintbrushes shelves) so I'd have no choice but to do just that. "I'm a good guy. I'm funny, I make good grades, I'm respectful, and, as I've been told, I'm a lot of fun to hang out with and, not to mention, even more fun to date. Why not just give me a chance?"
I made a disgusted noise in the back of my throat. "If you're so wonderful, and you're clearly aware of your own superiority, why not go date someone who gives a flying fuck about all that crap?"
"Because I want to date you!"
I sighed and swatted at him with a particularly large (and pointy-ended) paintbrush until he moved out of my way. "Look Charlie, I don't admire your persistence. I don't think it's cute that you're so adamant about this, and I don't appreciate that I'm 'wanted,' which is something I'm sure you're relying on. So save us both some time and effort and leave me alone."
And then, discouraged, he trudged out of the store in a huff.
And what did I do, you ask? Why, I deposited my paintbrushes, of course.
"Zoe, have a seat, okay?"
I hardly recognized my sister-in-law's voice. Oh, now the woman was trying to be calm? That was different; usually she just got angry and stormed out of the room in a huff, or got angry and threw things against walls. Or got angry and sulked at the kitchen table, right out in the open, just to ensure that everyone could see clearly just how much she was suffering.
My sister-in-law, Lois. Oh how I hated her. How to describe the woman with whom I have been forced to live for nearly six months now?
Well, she's African American, slightly overweight, has too many nosy friends who spend too much time at our apartment, and has my brother wrapped around her little finger. None of that has anything at all to do with why I hate her. She also gets pissed off too angrily, has quite a temper, lies frequently, and is an untrustworthy bitch. None of that really has to do with why I hate her either.
I hate her because she ruined my life.
I hadn't even known that I was capable of hate until just half a year ago, when I came to live with her. I'd really, really liked her when I first met her many years ago. No, that's like saying that Mondays can occasionally be vaguely irritating. I'd adored the woman. I blame it on the naiveté which comes with being a ten year old.
When she and my brother would come in for a visit, I'd insist that she stay in my room. She'd let me try on her perfume, her high heels. She was the most sophisticated thing I'd ever seen in my life; all expensive jewelry and brand name clothing. I'd thought she was glamorous, glorious. Of course, back then all her spending had been funded by her daddy. Even her name was mature: Lois Johansson. When she married my brother a couple years later, she took on my Italian last name, Bellini.
And now (now that we'd been on rather bad terms for months on end) she wanted to sit down with me and have a little chat. How nice.
"Would you like some tea?" she offered, gesturing to the sterling silver pot on the stove. She held a nice cup in her other hand. How quaint.
"Not really," I replied. I'd be damned before I'd be nice to her.
"Zoe, I know you might not like this, but I have some news."
"Oh Christ, what now?!" I exclaimed, my brain already racing to figure out what could possibly make my life worse than it already was. I was drawing a blank.
Lois took a deep breath and visibly steeled herself. "Zoe, we're moving back to Carolton. I know it's sudden, but the job your brother applied for came through for next year. We're leaving at the end of your school year."
There was no thought, no words, only blank amazement. "We're…moving back?"
Dearest Zoe Bellini,
AAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGHHHH (and other such noises of utter hysteria). I'm going out of my mind!!!!
There's nothing, NOTHING here to do without you, my crazy Italian friend. I can't stand it anymore. That's it, I'm driving over there. Not that I can actually find "the crap town of Thornston" on a map, but I'll improvise.
How are you doing? I know that, unlike me, you're able to maintain a little sanity without your best friend hanging around all the time. How's the pushing-away-all-humanity thing going? Well, I hope?
I thought I should tell you that no one here has forgotten you. You'll be delighted to know that you've coined a catch phrase. Anytime someone around here says something particularly heartless, at least one person will accuse them of having "pulled a Zoe."
Aren't you proud?! People are naming their flaws after you! How cute!
Alright, well, this crazy friend must be going. I have some rather pressing wallowing in loneliness to attend to. Until next time, my friend. Can't wait to see you.
All my love (undeserved as it may be, you heartless jerk!)
Moira Cabbage, your friendly neighborhood vegetable-wannabe.
I threw the letter down in disgust. Why did Moira always expect me to be so goddamn emotional? There was seriously something wrong with that girl. For some reason, she delighted in the fact that I was a rather unpleasant person. I was grudging friends with her, because she wouldn't leave me the hell alone. Alright, that's playing down the situation a little. Truth be told, she is my best friend. Since I moved, she'd written to me faithfully, and confessed each time how much she missed me. But to say the feelings aren't entirely reciprocated would be somewhat close to the truth. The truth…and this is where it gets really bad…is that I use her.
I'm only friends with her to assure myself that I'm not completely dead.
Because, more often than not, that's how I feel. Like my skin has become so thick that there's no guts, no soul left in there.
Moira Cabbage thought that it was funny that I hated…well, everything. She found it amusing that most weekends I would just shut myself in my room, disconnect my phone, and bolt and barricade the door simply because I felt like I would tear my own eyes out if they spied another person anytime soon. How someone could find that so hilarious was completely beyond me. Well, now I was obligated to write her back and inform her that I'd be coming back home at the end of the year. She'd flip out and send back a note in all capital letters consisting of words like "EEK" and "FRICKIN" that don't actually exist in any English dictionary.
None of it (her excitement, her inexplicable attachment to me) really mattered. Communicating with her, going out to movies and such with her, had assured me that I was still able to be around other people. That I wasn't completely lost.
Really, I didn't need to worry. I'd seen "completely lost" before, I've gotten a pretty good view of it, and I can pretty safely say that that's not me. But sometimes I worry. And it's always stupid worries like: "what if I'm already dead, but I can't tell because I've rotted away to the point at which there's not any hope of seeing what I'm really like?" and "what if I don't know until it's too late? What if all this worrying is for nothing? What if there's no warning, and deadness sneaks up on me?" and, "What if despair is genetic?"
A/N: There's the end of chapter one. Please review and let me know what you think; reviews will be greatly appreciated (read: I'm a little desperate).
Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed chapter one!