He was walking down the hall alone and silent. Head down. Shuffling his feet clumsily. Shoelaces dragging on the ground. The muddy, dark gray shoelaces that were once white. The shoelaces that were bought a year ago and have since then been dirtied by school halls, street sidewalks, and muddy fields. Shoelaces unraveling at the ends. There was no point in tying them anymore because the perfect loops have always come undone. Clean loops turned into frazzled gray strings by life.

The mournful shoelace march into the classroom was accompanied by a leisurely, rhythmic clicking. She was sitting at her desk. Smiling at some guy. Long, French-manicured nails lightly tapping the hard surface in front of her. She just got them done the day before so they were magnificently shiny and snow white at the tips. But they were fake. Because underneath the seemingly-perfect nails were her real ones. Ones that were short, unfilled, and chewed up. Yellowed at the tips by the smoke that routinely curled out of her mouth. Of course nobody saw that. They didn't see what went on under the top coat. Her fake nails gave the impression that she was put together and ideal. But they were just that—Fake.

The nails were fake but the dried tears on the face of the girl sitting next to her were real. They smeared the even-more real, heavy eyeliner circles under her eyes. The dark black symbolized the permanent stain on her soul. Every morning it was ceremoniously put on, along with blood red lipstick, and when she came home, tears streamed down her pale cheeks making the eyeliner run down with them. Then, every night came the process of removing the makeup. Each time she looked at her clean face in the mirror, she hated what she saw. Being herself had never really been good enough. It hadn't gotten her anywhere at home, at school, or at love. So the dark eyeliner represented the dark outlook she had developed. But the eyeliner was the thing people noticed, not why it was there in the first place.

The black turtleneck sitting in the corner of the coffee shop was the same deep shade as the black eyeliner, you'd think the clothing was colored on and turned that color by the pencil. However, while the eyeliner was a form of expression for the aforementioned girl, the turtleneck was used to cover up the secrets of its owner. Today it was black but on other days it could be green, pink, white, gray, any given color—just as long as it was a turtleneck. The turtleneck-covered arms were at the moment supporting the head and the fingers were resting on the cotton-covered neck. But the arms and neck were not only constantly covered by a turtleneck, they were also covered by bruises. Blue bruises with tints of black and purple decorated those parts of the girl's body like permanent tattoos and matched the coloring of the bags under her melancholy, crystal-blue eyes. The pure, unpolluted, color of her eyes was the only thing that hadn't been beaten out of her. Her pride, self-esteem, inner peace—those things were long gone but the tiny blue flame of hope could not be extinguished with any number of punches her eternally-drunk boyfriend delivered. Each day she floated down the hall with an armload of books as her piercing eyes searched out the quickest way to class. She was book smart and got good grades but hardly ever talked in class. Just buried her pain in turtlenecks and buried her nose in books.

Just like now—she read a footnote, leaning forward simultaneously with a guy a few tables away who took a sip of his black house blend. As his lips touched the steaming dark liquid and the magnificent concoction trickled down his throat, he should've felt the relaxing, melting sensation that comes from that first cup of strong coffee in the morning. Except that it wasn't his first cup and his morning swirled and mixed with night so it had no beginning or finish. The Hispanic's hands were slightly trembling from the amount of caffeine in his bloodstream. He wished he was somewhere else—somewhere in his home country of Spain, which he only left two years ago so her panoramic images were still relatively fresh in his mind. But he wasn't there. He was here. In the middle of nowhere. He dosed the remainder of the coffee in one gulp to make that thought easier to bear and walked out of the coffee shop.

The turtleneck was already outside, heading across the street to a towering, beige-colored, brick building called Millard High. The guy turned that way, too, and even though his heels were heavy with bitter coffee, he mustered the energy to follow the girl's pointed boots, clicking off each step she made on the sidewalk. Both of them would soon join the raggedy shoelaces and fake nails in the pathways of the giant spider web of a school and be scrutinized by the eyelined eyes.