|The Truth about Hate
Author: AdxMeliora PM
Mikal was trained to hate Atticus: he was a living reminder of the tragedy that happened to her best friend, Thomas, years ago. But when Atticus saves her life, she finds herself helplessly in his debt...Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Drama - Chapters: 2 - Words: 8,034 - Updated: 01-31-12 - Published: 01-30-12 - id: 2993232
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The girl who sat alone in the cafeteria was noticeably absent from my classes and from the dining hall for the next few days.
My curiosity threatened to overcome my sanity-one night,when I was about to go to bed, Leah came back from the group bathroom down the hall, and I decided to ask her if she knew the girl's identity.
"Hey, Leah?" I ventured.
After one minute of silence, she let out a deep breath and scathingly let out: "What."
"There's a girl who I think eats in the cafeteria by herself sometimes, long blonde hair, thin, kind of eccentric looking... do you know who I'm talking about?" My perception of her had been tweaked over the next few days after my first glimpse of her into some sort of surreal being-I wasn't sure if the eccentricity I saw in her would translate.
"Probably the jinx. Leave me the fuck alone now." Leah crawled into bed, arranging herself in the same posture Snow White had when she was placed in the glass casket. What a glorious contrast of purity and absolute evil.
Those were the only words I exchanged with Leah over the next few days.
The first semester hadn't begun yet—but Whittaker requested that most students be there a week early in order to bond with their fellow students, a suggestion that, according to Leah's late night phone call to a girl named Grace ("I already know everyone I want to. I can't believe they won't even let us off campus."), sounded more like a command.
Leah seemed to bounce around from friend to friend in her tight-knit circle, in which Mia never regained her place, apparently. I saw the girl once or twice, laughing happily with a rail-thin blond by the courtyard of the school. One time I got close enough to hear her laugh. It was still full and happy, but affected. Her voice seemed much quieter than that first day I had heard her. She commanded attention no longer, and a subtle worry was always crudely hidden above her brow.
At lunch, I found myself drifting out of the conversations I shared with Thomas and searching for the girl. The mystery was like a magnet. Was she dressed up as someone else? Did she truly have friends, and was just in a fight that day? Did she even go to this school?
After the fifth time it happened, Thomas slammed his fork down on his white china plate so loudly it startled me out of my daydream and made me jump. I smiled sheepishly and he rolled his eyes. Taking out his bib and setting it on the table (it had been the annual inaugural lobster dinner, delicious), he took my elbow and helped me up and walked back with me to our dorms.
After walking in silence for about a minute, he turned to me and said, "My roommate finally showed up." I snorted. It was about time.
"What's he like?"
"I don't exactly know. He's been sleeping the entire time since he arrived. I said hello, he waved, threw his stuff down, and climbed in bed."
I snorted again.
"Well this is recent. I've never heard you snort before."
I leaned my face in close to his and snorted as loud and hard as I could. He laughed, but didn't move back at all. The edges of my mouth twitched before I looked away from him.
"Hey, Mika, we're almost to my dorm. Do you want to come see it for a minute? It's actually pretty nice."
I turned back towards him and he was looking at me, waiting for an answer. I swallowed, and murmured, "But you must have dorm advisors, right? Some cranky old man sitting in his room just waiting to bust some kids?"
"Oh, please. The guy—Mr. Roberts, or Mr. Robust, whatever—would never miss a meal. He'll be in that cafeteria for a few hours yet."
"Well, in that case…" I rotated my head around, leaning back for a second to look up at the stars above me. God, they were so bright here. "I would love to. Provided your roommate continues to hibernate." Thomas smiled and hopped along the worn brick path that led to the entrance of his dorm. Willows wilted down over the path and, in some places, brushed the path itself. Some of the trees had displaced the bricks, the roots having moved upwards over time.
I smelled rosemary in the air, and all of a sudden I had the strangest vision of a rosemary bush consume my senses. A camera in my mind panned out from it, and I saw a thin, pale hand plucking a leaf from the bush. The hand swept up the frail arm, past wilting shoulders, to a wrinkled face. The woman was ancient, her skin the shape of her very skull. The woman looked at me. Her eyes were a dark blue, almost navy. I gasped and tears formed in my eyes. It was Thomas's mother. I took a step back, and my hand flew to my mouth. My heel hit a raised brick, and as I fought to keep my balance, my other foot flew from under me. My head hit the brick, hard. I didn't feel it for a moment, so I tried to stand. Then came the spinning. I couldn't see anything, and I clung to Thomas's thin cotton shirt. He put his hand behind my back, and lifted me up from my knees. While he carried me up the path and inside the dorm, I laid my head back, and crossed my arms behind my head, trying to regain control of the tornado in my mind. I didn't feel anything else until I was set down on a plush surface and heard a guy crying out a string of nonchalant expletives.
"Man, why'd you bring her in here? Could you at least warn me before you bring your girlfriend back here? Jesus." The guy sitting across from Thomas's bed rose up and angrily grabbed a magazine, storming towards us and the door. He stopped at the edge of the bed, and his eyes seemed to register the situation. "Wait, she's not alright, is she? Did she hit her head or something?"
I could see Thomas nod from where he was sitting. He didn't look at his roommate, but he combed his fingers through my hair, occasionally pulling them out to see if there was blood on them. I felt a sharp pain as he brushed through the crown of my head, and let out a strangled cry. "Hey, this has happened to me a few times before," said his roommate. What was his name supposed to be, Teddy? "Hey, you," he said, pointing to Thomas, "Go get a towel real fast." Teddy felt the wound, and I shivered again. He pressed it a little more, and smiled. "Hey, don't worry now, she's alright, okay? Just help me get her over to the tub, and we'll rinse her hair out." Teddy waved Thomas over and Thomas supported my left side and my stomach, while Teddy draped my right arm around his broad shoulders. They set me down with the front of my head hanging over the tub easily enough, but it was uncomfortable to say the least. I could feel my heart beat all over my body.
I heard the hollow hit of a toilet seat cover being set down as Thomas sat down to watch me be rinsed. Teddy grabbed the shower head—it was the kind on a long cord, that could be taken out of its normal place—turned it on soft flow, and held it towards my skull. His left arm wrapped around my middle and held me up.
Thirty minutes later a towel was wrapped firmly around my head and I laid on Thomas's bed, on the pillow I had already stained with blood. "Hey, thank you—Teddy, right?" I smiled at him across the room. He beamed and trekked across the room, setting his magazine down for the second time since I had come into the room.
"Yeah, it's Teddy. And you are…?"
"Mikal. And you have met Thomas?"
"Not formally yet. I was out like a log the past couple days. Jet lag, you know." He smiled at me and exposed a set of commercial-white teeth, as if I knew what it was like, spending weeks in other countries, and having to adjust back. Then he registered Thomas more fully, as he sat cross-legged next to me on his bed. "How are you, man?" He held his hand out, and Thomas took it hesitantly. Thomas never trusted people easily.
Teddy's inky brunette hair was tousled and perfect—it fit him. His wrinkled but tight clothes contoured to his form, and his face, chiseled and warm, exuded confidence. He leaned back at my feet, his elbows supporting him. "So, were you bringing her back to your room already or was this just because of the slip?" Teddy's eyebrows raised, and the corner of his lips tilted as if he were sharing a joke with himself.
"We were coming up—" I began.
"It was the slip—" Thomas said at the same time.
"You know what, you guys? I'm just going to leave you alone for a minute and get a soda, alright? It would probably be best if she was gone by then. Robust has got to stop eating at some point, you know. Oh, and if you please… whatever you do, do it on your side of the room, okay? Away from my shit? Thanks. I'll be back in ten." He grabbed his magazine from the other side of the room, unlatched the door, gave a slight wave and slipped into the hallway. His exit left an empty space in the room.
After a drawn-out silence, Thomas remarked, "Well, this is it. Not much."
I reached under his bed and pulled out a copy of The Ninth Crusade, Thomas's favorite book. "I knew it would be there," I smirked, and opened the worn cover. The story was science fiction of the worst sort—future and aliens, time machines, and a very evil king who tried to take over the land of Arede. I flipped through it, smelling the dusty, torn, pages. Whenever Thomas had a rough day, he would sit down and read it. I thought that this counted.
I laid my cheek on his shoulder and read about fifteen pages into it, throwing my full effort into the characters of Aencyclopod the robot and Queen Heverde. Every once in a while I would look up at Thomas and he would be resting, his head resting on the oaken headboard behind him, listening softly to my story. I felt him smile once or twice—his body would tense for a second while his whole body worked as one to create his grin.
I looked at the clock after those nine minutes I spent reading, and eased myself up off the bed. I unwrapped my head, and let down a mess of tangled, long auburn hair. I felt the back of my head; it still stung, but the blood had dried. I walked over to the window of the first floor dorm room and figured that it would be easy enough to slip out of. Thomas had fallen asleep, his head turned to the left and slightly downwards, an open palm lying next to him. I lifted my legs out of the window and hopped downwards, as I heard the door open with a squeal. I started to turn away, but then I faintly heard Teddy ask, "Hey, man, are you napping?"
I heard rustling as Thomas woke up and I leaned against the wall space underneath the window. "Huh?" yawned Thomas.
"Hey, how long have you been with your girlfriend for?" Teddy asked Thomas nonchalantly. I suppressed a giggle.
"Oh, she's not—we're not—" Thomas stuttered.
"So is she with anyone, or are you guys, like, in the throes of it?" Teddy pushed.
"Why is that so important?"
"I don't know. She seemed like a nice girl."
"And you surmised this from the minutes of conversation and nursing you spent together."
"Listen, you don't have to be all sore about it. If you guys already have something going on, I'm not saying anything, just making conversation with the roommate I've ignored for the past day or so."
"We don't have anything going on," Thomas insisted. "Don't worry about it. Go ahead." I started to walk away and I felt my cheeks get hot. It had sounded like he was trying to pawn me off on Teddy. I felt a torrent of fury at his nonchalant comment. I stalked off to Theret dorm, the wind tossing my hair around in its desperate attempt to cool my temper.
When I opened the door to my room, a heavy silence fell into my gut. Leah Ward was here, breathing, but she wasn't on her cell phone. She wasn't reading. She wasn't organizing her thousands upon thousands of dollars of clothes or furniture or random knickknacks. She was sitting on her bed, straight as a ramrod, staring. At me. "Where did you go after dinner." It was a statement, not a question.
"I went to my friend Thomas's dorm. I'm sorry, did I do something—"
"Just stop talking." Leah pulled one side of her hair behind her ears and seemed as if she were thinking. "Is that the guy who's rooming with Teddy?" For once, she almost seemed inviting. When she asked that question, I could see something light up inside her, an invisible wall breaking down. After that split second, her eyes narrowed and became hard again. "It's a one word answer. Not that much thought required. Are you retarded?" She asked me as if she honestly wasn't sure of my mental state.
"No, no… yes. Yes, Teddy is rooming with Thomas."
Her eyes flickered. Something about her relaxed, even though she didn't move an inch. "Listen, I'm sorry about the way I've been acting, not letting you on to certain things... lord knows what my conversations can sound like out of context."
Yeah, it was just the lack of context that made you seem like a raging bitch. I crossed my arms and waited for her to continue, the skepticism plain on my face.
"That girl you asked me about the other day? I was kind of tired, but I think I was right in guessing that it was the jinx. I'm not one hundred percent sure, but I think her name is Imogen Colburn. She hasn't been at Whittaker for at least two years." Leah skipped over any possible reasons for her departure. "I was confused when I saw her name on the list of students enrolled... must be hard to get used to anywhere else, after how great Whittaker is." A big, fake smile radiated over to my side of the conversation. "So if you want to, you know, interact with her, I'm pretty sure you can just look her up on Whittaker's database."
What was this? What did she need from Thomas, and by extension, Teddy? I trusted her information but not the motives behind it.
A few tense seconds leaked into the conversation.
"So, if you want to eat with me sometime at lunch, just let me know. There'll always be a space for you and Thomas next to me." With that, she whipped around, and left me with a memory of the most bipolar conversation I had ever deigned to be a part of.
For the next few minutes, I tried to convince myself that I would just start looking harder, maybe ask some people around campus if they had ever heard of Imogen, but the curiosity won out.
I pulled up Imogen's profile on the database. Leah was right. It was definitely her.
Year: 4th (in absentia 2nd and 3rd years)
Hometown: NO DATA
Academic Concentration: Computer Science, Art History
Bio: NO DATA
Goals: NO DATA
Her bio was more sparse than a list of my sexual conquests. After gaining entrance to Whittaker, I had taken five hours editing and re-editing my bio and goals, trying to achieve a perfect mix of wit and coolness (in which I failed, miserably), and she had written absolutely nothing.
I took ten minutes to formulate my inquiry. Thomas was taking Intro to African Art, wasn't he? My email was such a bad imitation of an offhanded request that I physically cringed while writing it.
I was searching the database and noticed that you were concentrating in Art History-do you know anything about African Art, by any chance?
Almost immediately, a reply popped up on my gmail messenger.
icolburn: what do you need to know?
I panicked. I knew nothing about African Art. I reached for my phone and dialed Thomas. He picked up after two rings and started to utter a greeting, but I cut him off.
"Thomas, I'm a girl who you have sought out for help with your African Art class. You desperately need her help, enough to search her out for tutoring. Aaaaaaand go. 'What do you need to know, Thomas?'"
"What do the gwandusu signify in Bamana culture?" I translated his reply.
icolburn: the gwandusu are mothers, usually holding children that are blended into her belly, a reference to her womb. hunter/sorcerer caps and broad shoulders endow her w/ masculine power. always accompanied by gwantigi, warrior figures.
icolburn: who are you?
I relaxed, dropping the pretense.
"Mikal, what's going on?" Thomas asked.
"Gotta go, Thomas, we're making friends!" I replied, giddy with joy as I hung up the call.
mfaller: mikal... I'm new here, don't know who to turn to for academic help, haha
icolburn: you're not in african art.
mfaller: yes i am?
icolburn: no, you're not. I'm taking the class right now and there are five people in it, none of which look like your picture on the database.
What a love/hate relationship I now had with that database!
mfaller: would you want to eat lunch w/ me and my friend Thomas tomorrow, and try to settle this weirdness?
Tense seconds passed. This had been a stupid idea. She probably found comfort in her solitude. Maybe I was insulting her by asking her to spend lunch with me. After all, as far as she was aware I was probably some kind of jack-the-ripper maniac trying to lure her into a dark corner and kill her.
icolburn: why not. i'll find you. 2 pm
I quickly typed out "see you later!" but she logged off right before I hit the button-it sent anyway. Great, now she would have a blank conversation with my misguided "see you later!" at the top to remind her of the weirdness we had just exchanged.
I turned my computer off and tried to settle down.
Thomas sat next to me at a round table in the dining hall as far as possible from the one at which Leah and her crew were busy whispering.
"Mikal, stop shaking your legs. You're going to give yourself a hernia."
"If you're going to just name random diseases that I'm going to develop, choose a cool one. Like yellow fever."
"Too bad you're not a guy, because haemophilia is about as fancy as it gets. Just saying the word brings up pictures of royalty-"
A voice behind us broke in. "But bleeding everywhere can really stain the embroidered handkerchiefs your servants pack your pockets with every morning. Such a bummer in the morning." The voice laughed as we turned around. Imogen's clear, bright face looked back at us, no longer blonde but a very deep fuschia. No wonder I hadn't recognized her. "Sorry for eavesdropping, couldn't help it. Had to hear the verdict." She took a seat on the other side of Thomas. "So what's your history? People don't normally arrive at school and find someone they can banter with about the coolness quotient of diseases a mere week later."
"We grew up together, and moved here with each other this year," Thomas said.
Imogen nodded. "Sensical. And here I thought you were one of those girls who just liked everything in its place. I guess 'best friend' isn't a term quite so easily won as I thought."
She was direct. I liked her immediately.
"No, I generally like to make sure that a person doesn't mind talking about woodland creatures, nonstop, for five hours straight before I call them my best friend. Not an easy task, even though I'm sure you're jumping at the gun to try right now." I hesitated for a second. That might have been too much weird, too soon.
"Well, you know sprites aren't real. The unicorns made them up so the trolls don't attack their treehouse villages," Imogen countered.
The serious look on her face and the slight strain in her voice to keep her cool set me into a fit of giggles, more than was appropriate for the area we inhabited.
"I feel like we should create a secret handshake or something right now," I choked out. "Preferably something with some kind of flutter movement..."
A second voice roused us from laughter. "Hello again, Imogen."
Imogen's face dropped, a look of impenetrability replacing the amusement. "Leah," she acknowledged.
Leah swept over to my side, her hand settling on my back as if we had that level of physical contact was acceptable. "I just need to let you know that I might be out late tonight, so if the RAs look for me, just tell them I'm in the bathroom or something. Thanks so much. And I'm glad you found her," she said, tilting her head at Imogen, who shot me a questioning glance.
Just then, the doors of the cafeteria parted. A brief moment of silence passed, and then whispers started to build. Someone walked in, and Leah gracefully exited her seat, sauntering over to towards him. Carefully, she placed her arms around his neck and gave him a deep, ten-second hug. His face was hard as stone. He shook her off towards the end, muttering a gruff "hey."
She grabbed his hand and began pulling him towards her table.
"I can fucking walk on my own, you don't need to do this the second I get back." She dropped her arm and whispered in his ear. He shook his head.
When I turned back to my table, both Thomas and Imogen's faces had lost all color. Thomas grabbed my hand.
"Thomas, what's wrong?"
His shut his eyes before telling me.
"The kid... the one who just walked in... it's Atticus Barrows. The brother of the man who killed my mother."