|Holly Quigley and Karina Wu Conquer Xanadu
Author: Catherine Julia Jefferson PM
Together, Holly Quigley and Karina Wu could conquer Xanadu, the world, the universe. Together, they were unstoppable, but for the burdens of other people’s expectations and Karina's constant crying. F/F. High school fic.Rated: Fiction T - English - Friendship/Hurt/Comfort - Words: 3,114 - Favs: 1 - Published: 04-19-11 - Status: Complete - id: 2909011
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Holly Quigley and Karina Wu Conquer Xanadu
By C. J. Jefferson
Karina was crying.
If I hadn't found her behind the locker bay, I wouldn't have thought it was possible. For someone who saw her everyday, I didn't know her very well. But I did know one thing, and that was that Karina Wu didn't cry. She had nerves of steel, not to mention an iron fist. She was the star of Xanadu High School's junior class: the editor of the yearbook, captain of the debate team, resident genius. She was always so perfectly composed that I could just picture her on the front page of the New York Times, standing behind a podium embossed with the Presidential seal. She was the last person I expected to see crouching on concrete, her books fanned out around her, mascara running down her cheeks, silently sobbing.
My first instinct was to turn around and pretend I hadn't seen anything. But I spent too long hesitating, gawking at the car crash.
She must have heard me breathing. She turned her head to look at me. "Holly?" she asked, her voice raw.
I tensed. Every fiber of my body told me to turn and run, forget, erase. I didn't know how to comfort a crying child, let alone a crying teenager. We weren't friends; if anything, we were more akin to rivals. I was on the yearbook staff and the debate team; I was a straight-A student in honors classes. I was competent, capable, and confident, but no one cared. I wasn't Karina Wu. But in that moment, she wasn't Karina Wu either. She wasn't an editor, captain, or genius; she wasn't the teachers' darling, the principal's pet, or her mother's favorite. She was just a girl crying behind the locker bays on a rainy Monday afternoon. I couldn't hate her, couldn't envy her. So I crouched down beside her and took her hand in mine. Her fingers were cold and stiff.
Her breathing slowed, and she stopped crying. She didn't make any move to withdraw her hand. Instead, after a while, she asked, "Holly, do you ever feel like everything you've worked for and everything you've become is meaningless? Do you ever get the urge to do something crazy? Like buy a plane ticket, go somewhere far away, and just start anew where no one knows you or expects anything of you?"
Something clenched in my throat. My mouth was dry. I could have lied, but for some inexplicable reason, I didn't want to. I whispered, "Every day."
"Do you think it ever gets better?"
"How could it?"
"Wouldn't it be different, somewhere else? If no one had any expectations of us, if our parts were unscripted--"
"We can never be free of our own expectations," I said softly, staring at our hands, hers yellow, long-fingered, elegant, a pianist's hand, next to mine, pale white, stubby, and awkward.
"We just end up writing our own scripts."
"Isn't that better?" she insisted.
I just shook my head as I stood up, pulling her with me. Then I helped her gather her textbooks. It wasn't until I was about to leave that I put on a wry smile and answered her question. "I guess we'll just have to find out."
Karina was crying because she was laughing so hard.
Admittedly, I was laughing too. It was difficult not to laugh while watching David Tennant save the universe whilst traveling in a blue box.
"I can't believe you've never seen Doctor Who!" Karina exclaimed between fits of sobs and giggles. We'd been watching the show on her computer for the last two hours. We were pulling overtime for yearbook, which meant it was just the two of us, sitting in the computer lab on a Friday night with cold pizza and corrosive coffee.
I shrugged, trying not to get too distracted. On my computer, I was attempting to finish two spreads simultaneously.
"You can't be a real science fiction fan if you haven't seen it," Karina continued more soberly. "It's the longest running sci-fi show. Ever."
"Well," I smirked, still staring straight ahead, "I'm indebted to you for filling the gaps in my education."
"Oh, no," she shook her head, smiling broadly. She was sitting sideways in her swivel chair, facing me. "Two hours is not nearly enough to educate you in an entire universe. You haven't even seen Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor yet! And after we get through the new series, you'll have to see Torchwood and some of the classic series and--"
"I don't think I have nearly enough time for that much television, 'Rina."
"Oh, come on Holly, don't you ever relax?" I could hear the pout in her tone.
I gestured to the computer screen, to the white pages littered with pictures and text just begging to be aligned. "Not when there's work to be done." I paused to look at her. Sure enough, her expression was twisted into a neat pout. I smiled in spite of myself. "Put on the next episode," I said. "I can work and watch at the same time."
She put on the next episode, and the whirring of the TARDIS, the buzz of alien weapons, and the rumble of Karina's laugh continued. By the time the episode ended, I had finished the two pages I'd been working on. We cleaned up the pizza carcass, scoured the coffee pot, shut the computers down, and locked up. As we walked away from the building, Karina whispered, "Hang on a second."
Her face was upturned, and the glow of the crescent moon played across her skin, caught on her epicanthic folds, reflecting off her shiny black hair. "Look," she murmured.
So I followed her gaze to the stars, speckling the clear spring night. The contrast was striking in the absence of street or city lights. My breath snagged, and reflexively, I said, "Numinous."
"Do you think we'll ever get there?"
She didn't have to specify where because I knew exactly what she meant. "I don't know," I answered honestly. "But I hope we do."
We stayed like that, staring in silent understanding as we thought the same thoughts and dreamed the same dreams.
Karina was crying when she ambushed me in the hallway.
"Will you do me a favor?" she asked.
"Anything," I answered.
"Will you come with me to Hadley Park?"
"After school? Sure."
"No," she shook her head violently. "I need to go now."
"'Rina," I said, tense and sharp, "we have class. We can't just go off to Hadley Park and--" And then I looked at her, tears streaming down her cheeks, and going to psychology class seemed stunningly unimportant. "Yeah," I nodded and adjusted my tone, "of course. Let's go."
So instead of wasting the first true spring day of the year in psych, we made our way to Hadley Park. It was a little over a mile from Xanadu, so it didn't take very long to get there. We didn't speak; I just followed Karina through the gates of the old neighborhood park, past the playground and stables, toward the lake. She stopped at a magnolia tree that was in full bloom. Under it, there was a dull black iron-wrought bench with a gold plaque that read:
Beloved Husband and Father
We sat on the bench. Karina hugged her knees against her chest. She wasn't crying anymore, wasn't showing any emotion at all. She stared straight in front of her, and I stared at her. I didn't know what to say. I hoped she could sense the condolences I wanted to offer but knew would sound hollow.
I had heard the story, of course, though I hadn't known her at the time. In middle school, Karina's father had died of a brain tumor. She had always been closer to her father than either her mother or her younger brother. His death had changed her. Everyone knew, but no one said how. All they cared was that she was a prodigy; tragedy made her story all the more romantic.
"It was three years ago today," she announced, still devoid of emotion. She sounded dead, robotic, zombie-like, overdrawn from too much crying. "It was 1096 days ago," she amended, "and it still feels like yesterday."
My personal history was free of tragedies. It was the quintessential American television family: a successful lawyer happily married to a beautiful housewife who bore him two healthy daughters, precisely five years apart. I could not relate to Karina's misery. I put my arm around her shoulders; there was nothing else I could think to do.
She leaned her head against my shoulder. My eyes focused on her red converse sneakers. The sun shined above us, the wind blew around us, and magnolia blossoms fluttered to the ground.
Karina was crying, but only just.
It wouldn't have been obvious to anyone else. The stage lights were funny, and they played tricks on the audience. To everyone else, that would be enough to explain the uncanny shininess in her eyes. But I wasn't just anyone, and I was standing right next to her as the head judge announced, "The winners are Karina Wu and Holly Quigley, of Xanadu High School."
It was the final debate competition of the school year, and the only one we'd entered as partners. I had pulled three consecutive all-nighters researching, culling through tedious studies and reports, running on Karina's ultra-acidic coffee, learning everything pro and con regarding manned space missions. But it was Karina's presentation that had won the competition. I presented facts dryly. Karina spoke with conviction; her passion was irresistible.
So we'd won, and Karina was crying in front of everyone, but they couldn't see her tears. They saw the child prodigy all grown up, smiling as she accepted a shiny trophy. They didn't see her tears, and they didn't see me.
As soon as the applause slowed and they let us leave the stage, I pulled Karina behind the sight lines. I put a hand on each of her shoulders and stared at her steadily. I shook with thinly veiled concern as I asked, "'Rina? Are you all right?"
She smiled, showing her bright white and perfectly-straight teeth. "I'm just happy," she said. Then she laughed, as breezy as a kite carried by the wind. "I'm happier than I've been in a long time."
"I'm glad to hear it." Her happiness was infectious, and I wasn't lying when I said, "So am I."
Then she hugged me. She hooked her arms behind my back and pressed against me. She rested her head on my shoulder. Her hair smelled of apricots and was downy soft because she washed her hair with body wash instead of shampoo. I hugged her back with a soft sigh.
Contentedly, she repeated, "We won."
"Yeah," I agreed. I caught a glimpse of the gold trophy lying a few feet away from us on the floor. I figured she must have dropped it. She didn't seem to care. "We did." I pulled back reluctantly. "I guess we have to greet our adoring fans." Then I picked up the trophy, which seemed so dull away from the limelight, and handed it to her.
She took it, but her smile was gone. "My mother won't like this," she murmured as she studied the trophy. "It's smaller than last year's." She dismissed the matter with a shake of the head and turned once more to me. "We're celebrating, right? Original Who marathon?"
I blinked away my confusion. "Our psych project is due tomorrow."
She shrugged. "Plenty of time for both, right?" She hugged the trophy close to her chest as she walked toward the stairs.
I stared after her.
"Holly!" she called. "Aren't you coming?"
I followed her.
Karina was crying; she had never looked more beautiful.
We lay on a pink blanket under the magnolia tree in Hadley Park. There were magnolia blossoms strewn all through her hair, which fanned out around. Her skin was flushed. Her breaths were quick, and her chest heaved up and down at a rapid, regular rate. Her white halter dress was indecently arranged. Her face was painted with contentment.
I lay equally mussed and contented beside her, my arm draped over her waist. We were facing each other, our noses mere inches apart. When I saw her tears, I asked, "You don't regret it, do you?" I was terrified of what she would say.
But she laughed, lightly, at her own tears. "Holly," she chastised me with a smile, "of course I don't regret it. It's only that I want desperately for this to be easier than it is."
"But it's easy now, isn't it?"
"No," she seized my hand in hers and continued to look at me with her sad eyes. "It isn't easy because what we have alone together is. That's what makes us so terribly complicated. What we have alone together is irrelevant in the context of the outside world."
"Why not?" I asked, feeling small and child-like. Maybe it was foolish and naive of me, but I didn't understand why this had to be more complicated than the two of us lying on a blanket under a blossom-coated tree on a sunny day.
"We have to consider our reputations," she answered, sounding very much like a schoolteacher. "Other people have expectations for us, and we're obligated to live up to those expectations."
I was confused and sullen and hurt. "I thought we agreed to write our own script."
"Weren't you the one who said that it didn't make a difference?"
I had said that. I had said that not knowing that it was possible to feel like this--so positively aflutter with possibility. Together, the two of us could do anything. Together, Holly Quigley and Karina Wu could conquer Xanadu, the world, the universe. Together, we were unstoppable, but for the burden of other people's expectations. "I've changed my mind."
"You were right to begin with."
I wanted to argue. I wanted to kiss her. I wanted to explain how perfectly simple this was because I loved her, and that couldn't possibly be complicated. But I didn't do any of those things. Instead I asked, "So what does that mean for us?"
Once more, she smiled her sad smile. "We live double lives, separate but equal. When we're alone together, we do what's easy, natural. When we're not alone, we play the parts others expect us to play."
I desperately wanted to tell her that this could be so much easier, but I couldn't. I couldn't say anything. My throat was thick and dry; words were impossible.
She didn't wait for my consent. She leaned forward and kissed me.
Karina was crying, and it was my fault.
The computer lab had never felt quite so hostile. The entire yearbook staff was present, but they were silent. Everyone's attention was focused on Karina, who was crying as she spoke. "I didn't believe it," she said. "I didn't believe that anyone would plan a coup for the editorship of the yearbook. We've had a good year, and I thought we were all a team. I never would have suspected that anyone would try to stab me in the back." She was staring straight at me, her eyes cold and hard. "It's even more difficult to believe that I considered the person responsible for this plot a friend."
I listened as she verbally lynched me. I didn't blame her. She had every reason to. I had betrayed her trust. I had gone behind her back and talked to the yearbook teacher about the editorship for senior year. I didn't think my request was unreasonable. I had done the job this year, while Karina sat and watched. I had done all of the research for our debates. I had done all the work for our class projects. I had done everything I could to earn her love. All I wanted was the slightest acknowledgement.
Now she was acknowledging me as a traitor with her tears, and I had to wonder if that was worse than nothing.
She continued, "I can't imagine doing something like this to anyone I cared about; I still can't believe it's been done to me. Friends shouldn't be capable of betraying each other like this, but apparently they are. So I've learned my lesson. I've been stripped of my naivety. I won't be fooled in the future."
She was done, finally, and she had succeeded in turning the rest of the staff against me. I didn't care. I didn't care about anyone or anything. I cared only about the computer in front of me, and the final few pages I had to proofread. This yearbook would be flawless; it would be a testament to my commitment. I knew Karina was a few computers away, but I did my best to ignore her, just as she did her best to ignore me.
Eventually, the class ended. I saved the files and shut down my computer. Numbly, I stood, my limbs tingling. I left the room without saying a word to anyone and started walking. I didn't pay attention to where I was going. I was too distracted by the feel of the concrete beneath my green sneakers, the white noise of crowded hallways, the beating of my bloody red heart.
Before I knew it, I was rounding the locker bays, staring at a familiar patch of concrete. I knelt down instinctually and hugged my knees to my chest. I stared up at empty expanse of bright blue sky. I wanted to fly away, from everyone and their expectations, from myself and what I'd done, from Karina and her tears. I wanted desperately for this to be easier than it was.
My eyes itched. I reached up and touched my cheek. My fingers glistened in the harsh sunlight. I kept crying.