Here I am, sitting in the waiting room of a hospital designed to look the opposite of what a hospital is. There's the fish tank in the corner, the little bowl of candy on the low side table, and the colorful drapes covering up the dark moonlit sky. The room is cozy; plush couches and chairs adding a family-like touch to the emanating feelings of togetherness and safety.

It's repulsing.

This is the critical condition waiting room, where chances of recovery are bleak, and high hopes are driven away by the stoic expressions of the doctors and nurses. Such coziness can only sugarcoat the truth, and make it all the more hard to accept. In a waiting room like this the reality is veiled by false hope, which inevitably adds to the pain when all fears are confirmed. It's a cruel comfort.

I only started thinking like this, -as this bitter curmudgeon- ever since the world found out my secret. The bitterness and shame they dropped on me I spew right back at them. I feel I will continue to do so until I am free of this place, free to make my own decisions, and most of all, free of my parents.

Ah, there she is.

Her walk has changed a little. There is an imperceptible slur to her step. I feel concern churning in my stomach as I rise to meet her. I have to lean in a bit to hear the muttered words.

"She's gone."

As if that were the floodgate, she broke out into sobs. I took her in my arms, trying to soothe her. Trying to soothe us both. I have no idea how long we both stood there like that until she tilted her head back and said,

"Lets go. Right now, lets just go."

Chapter 1
"The hell!?" I screamed, "Sora, what am I supposed to do with these?" I glanced furiously down at the white lily flowered skirt. Except, it wasn't white anymore. And the damned lilies had turned an odd shade of orange. "You put my skirt in the orange pile on purpose, you little hussy!"

Yes, we have an orange pile. I'm sorry. That's just the way my family is.

You see my family was born to be a bunch of nitpickers. Way back in the depression, food and money came few and far between. My family survived only because they counted everything, knew how much to use, and when to use it. They watched the neighbors give into their hunger, give up their discipline, and eventually fade away.

Unfortunately, they never grew out of this frenzy as the depression faded, and each generation held fast that meticulous way of life. It eventually rubbed off on me. Every little scrap of detail must be accounted for. To be safe, my father always said, you must stay vigilant of the very world.

He made me more cautious of everything. And I mean everything. When I was little, playing in the sandbox, the sand that made its way into my shoes, despite my vigorous attempts at lacing them doubly tight, scared me. Crunchy sand trapped beneath my feet scared me. I remember my father giving me that confused stare as I ran about crying and hollering about the "monsters trying to eat my toes."

My little sister was a heavy-set girl, much like her mother. Her piercing gray eyes seemed to turn a little murky every time she looked at me, and her hair had become a little stiff from all the processing it had undergone over the years. This month it was a dark shade of red. Her face resembled her mother's for the most part, and had that odd mixture of sharpness and roundness that came with a heavy girl growing into maturity.

Sora shouted back from her portion of house, the innocence scraping at my nerves even further, "I don't know what you're talking about!"

I would have shouted back some pithy childish retort had my mother not come in at that moment. She had the demeanor of a twelve-year old. When she didn't understand something -which was quite often- her densely coated black eyelashes batted about like trapped birds. She could be scathingly whiny at times; going into tantrums as a child does when she does not receive a sweet that is flaunted in front of her in the grocery store. She was also the most terribly daft person I think I've ever met.

I clamped my mouth shut, hoping she wouldn't start wailing because of the noise.

"Why are you so loud? It's morning-time. Don't you know its morning-time? "

"Yes." –obviously.

Her eyes flicked to the skirt lain neatly on my bed. "Your skirt looks okay to me. What's wrong?"

"I promised Anastacia that I'd match her for the audition today." –and the fact that it's the ugliest shade of orange I'd ever seen. I tried to speak slowly and evenly to her.

My mother considered this. "Well, I guess that's not going to happen now. Time to consider plan B, huh? As my mother always says: the world doesn't revolve around you!"

Doesn't it?

Even though the woman was giving me advice she herself should clearly consider, I muttered. "Okay."

"What else do you have?"

I went to my dresser and selected a soft gray skirt, then held it up for her.

"No, no. Gray is too…indecisive. Get the elephant pink one!"

I selected that gaudy pink skirt she had insisted I buy during one of her shopping flings. I hate pink.

"There. It will go fine with what you have. It brings out your eyes."

I kept my sigh in until I was sure she was gone, then, reluctantly slipped that…thing on. After putting on the rest of the clothes for the audition, I gathered my school things and stood before the mirror for one last check.

My black hair looked as if it were swept into place. I groaned at my chunky blond highlights, and the way my roots were beginning to grow in. I made sure my make-up was in place, not too heavy and not too light, and quickly blended in a spot of the brown foundation that matched my light brown skin. My dark brown eyes were accented nicely with the green eye shadow I put on.

Smiling, I swept out the door, pretending not to hear my father's "daily words of advice." His 'advice' would leave the most stoic people in tears. It was nothing more than refined mockery of every flaw a person could have. And today, especially today, could I not handle anything that would bring me down. Not when the possibility of saving my friend rested with this.

I found myself on school grounds shortly after, not remembering much of the drive other than the soft breeze carrying a hint of cold winter months washing over me. My school was the famous Happy Valley high school.

The school year was still fresh, only four days in. That means old friendships and new ones bloom again. I couldn't even imagine what it would be like to have no friends. Everyone had at least one close friend.

…I thought that until I heard the rumors.

Now, our school prides itself on its ability to conform people, be it by force or otherwise. The more you conform, the more popular you become. Girls were required to wear a mini skirt at least twice a week, study the girlish fashion magazines, and wear a bit of makeup everyday. Not too hard if you're interested in that shit. Me personally, I've always enjoyed the company of others…even if our interests are as distant as oil and water. I admit it. I've bowed down to the standards. I wear the uncomfortable heels, apply the correct colors of lipstick for the correct season, and look to see what's hot and what's not in the monthly Seventeen magazines.

I know none of this will ever matter once we graduate. My collage professor won't ask what my social status was in high school, but I want to have fun in my last years of childhood. I don't want to worry about getting pranked or beat up or shunned because I decided to have my own feelings and be an individual. I know it's superficial. You don't have to tell me.

Then, to my surprise, there was the girl with out fear –or friends. There were some that tried to be kind to her, but were soon frightened off by her aspirations to individuality. Maybe they were afraid of liking the idea. Afraid of someday becoming like her. There also were some that genuinely tried to befriend her. Sort of become the missionaries to the misguided. Their "kindness" was also short lived. This one could not be swayed.

When I found out, I made the expected outward signs of being appalled. Secretly, I cheered her on. I wished I had the courage to be different and not worry about the social pressures of school. That would be bliss.

I soon found myself at the front doors of the school. Only four days into the school year and already it felt tedious. I was fiddling with my locker when my best friend, Anastacia, approached me. I smiled, and she returned it in kind.

Anastacia was a rather petite girl. Her arms and legs seemed almost flimsy to me whenever we had gym together, as if the only thing in them were bones. She was by far shorter than I, me being almost a head taller. She had the eyes of a puppy, deep brown wells with little shines in them that forced you to surrender all your heart and soul to her. She was always trendy looking, a natural blonde, always on the ball when it came to the latest fashions, always knowing what the latest catch phrase or lingo was. She was way cooler than I was, but yet, was still that quiet, friendly, lovely girl.

"Conari…" I watched uneasily as her eyes drifted to my skirt. "You're not matching."

"I know," It sounded like a pathetic excuse now that I think about it. "My sister mixed my skirt with the oranges. I think she did it on purpose, the little bitch."

"Oh…well, we'll still do fine in the auditions." She smiled a bit. "We've practiced extra hard. The director is sure to love us."

Her confidence was touching.

I playfully ruffled her hair. "Go to class. I'll see you after school."

Upon walking to class, I said "hi" to the acquaintances, giving them the expected compliments to fuel their already bloated egos. I watched the normal sea of faces, boring sheep, bent down to the law of conformity. Then, I noticed her.

She walked with a little style to her step, as if music were constantly playing in her head –which it probably was. She was a really scrawny girl, much like Anastacia, but her arms and legs had a little more muscle to them. Her hair was cut short, falling to her jaw. I would never be able to tell the true color of her hair; it had been dyed and streaked so frequently there were at least three colors in it at one time. Her attire was based solely on men's fashions: a baggy T-shirt and baggy jeans. What really made her stand out was the assortment of tattoos and piercings. Her tattoo's remained hidden for the most part. They peaked out at us every once in a while from a sleeve, or bunched up shirt, and we could only imagine what the full image was. At least five piercings in each ear, one for the right side of her lip, three in her eyebrows, and another for her belly button. The final touch had to be the chain leading from her left ear to that belly button ring kept secretly under her shirt.

To most, it was an atrocity.

To some, a joke.

To me? Well…

She startled me when our eyes locked. A huge brash smile appeared on that face, and she winked at me.

Winked. At me!

I immediately turned away, feeling flustered. When I looked back up, she was gone. Funny thing. Classmates were glaring at me when I looked up at them. Apparently, making even the smallest contact with the girl was considered taboo.

I impulsively reached for my hair, trying to regain my dignity. I might have even started sputtering excuses or retorts to their unspoken insults had a certain boy not come strutting down the hall.

Jake, my best friends ex-boyfriend.

We stayed up countless hours talking about that one. Anastacia was suspicious of him. After that final break up, she wondered if he wasn't up to something. Jake never had an interest in theater, ever. Only recently had Anastacia announced that she was joining the club, and shortly after, Jake had too. Call me jumpy or irrational, but I was scared for Anastacia. Jake is sort of a mystery to me but, if this shook up Anastacia, then there must definitely be something wrong.

And that's why I'm joining that stupid club. I've never really taken joy in acting, or watching others act. I'm more of a facts and dates kind of person. Hard, methodical numbers comforts me. Debating issues comforts me. Acting like a ninny in front of an endless crowd?


It surprised my parents too. They, of course, gave me their opinion of this:

"Theater? Conari, when did you become so…childish?"

"Conari, theater is just a fancy way of saying 'circus.' Can't you join something more civilized? Like…tennis?"

I groaned outwardly. They could never understand true friendship.

The school day passed seamlessly. I felt confident in my dialogue with Anastacia for the audition. There was no doubt whether Anastacia would make it in or not; she was a phenomenal actress. That girl could turn on or shut off the water works at will. She could capture your soul without saying a word and manipulate it so that you felt exactly what that character was feeling.

The problem was I had absolutely no acting ability whatsoever. I could only hope my acting would be good enough. Please let it be good enough.

I found myself seated in the auditorium, filling out papers. Why do you have to be so official for just a high school audition? While Anastacia and I scribbled down our personal information, I glanced up every so often to check if I knew anyone and to see if Jake actually had the gull to show up.

The heavy door swung open and shut.

"Conari," Anastacia jabbed me with her elbow. "That weird girl is joining theater!"

Anastacia didn't need to tell me. She didn't need to tell anyone. The second the girl walked through the room she had everyone's attention.

She obviously noticed, too. A broad smile curled her lips and she waggled her fingers at us.

We all turned away, embarrassed.

That was when Jake entered. I recovered and noticed him first. The lanky bastard looked a little intimidated by all the people auditioning, the stage itself, and the way I glared at him. Let him squirm.

Smiling, I was cocky enough to murmur, "Anastacia, you have nothing to worry about. This dumb-ass can barely keep his knees from shaking."

Anastacia smiled softly in return. "I hope so."

Mrs. Spiel, the director, snapped her fingers in quick succession to get our attention. "Thank you for coming. We're going to be doing a classic, Les Miserables, the story of Jean Valjean, a criminal on the run who ends up taking care of a little girl, Cosette who is orphaned. It's quite a tale. You are all required to do a monologue and a mime.


"We'll start with volunteers. You, in the back."

A nervous looking girl stepped forward, handed the director her paperwork, and stepped onto the stage. We all watched in anticipation.

The girl started out strong…sort of. Her hands shook, making us all nervous. Her voice shook, making us all grimace. Her voice was too low, making us all lean forward, straining to hear. Obviously, this was not one of her best auditions.

"Thank you." Mrs. Spiel said impatiently, cutting her off. "Would you please do a mime for us?"

She tried a mime. We couldn't really tell what it was. My best guess was a hairdresser polishing a bowling ball. Anastacia guessed a poodle in a car wash. Whatever it was, it didn't fly well. We all clapped politely.

"Okay." Mrs. Spiel said, sounding worried. "Who wants to go-"


We spun around in our seats to see who it was.

"Go ahead," The director shuffled with her notes, looking a little annoyed.

The odd girl flounced down the aisle, handing Spiel her papers, "Don't be handing out my number now."

The director remained stoic.

"Geez, tough crowd." She got up on stage. I wondered if she knew we were judging her the harshest of anyone. Probably did.

"My name is Brent. Nice to meet'cha."

Brent? But that's a guy's name…

She smiled brashly, seemingly thrilled, before slipping into character. Brent transformed into Oedipus, the antihero who agonizes over the fact that he might have killed his father on the crossroads in his own arrogance, and might have married his mother, Jocasta, in his own ignorance. The pitiful and stubborn king who curses the murder of the previous king, only to discover that he has been cursing himself all along. She finished with a mime; Oedipus stabbing out his own eyes with Jocasta's hair pins. Her screams sent shivers down my spine, as well as everyone else within her vicinity.

When it was over, our automatic response was to clap. We forget for a few moments who our applauds were going to, allowing ourselves to cheer and whistle. The cheers lasted no more than a few brief moments as we all finally remembered whom it was we were clapping for. Applauds stopped almost at once. It was scary how our conformed minds thought alike.

Spiel sounded pleased as she hummed and scribbled down something hurriedly in her college rule.

Dammit, she was too good… She'll get the part for sure –was probably the thought running through everyone's minds. Me, I was left with an almost perverse sense of satisfaction. Take that. I though savagely. Choke on it. See how your rigid society has failed to keep people on your leash.

I wanted Brent to get the part.

"Let's go next Conari." Whispered Anastacia.

"W-wait, I didn't even think of a mime."

"Don't worry, you'll think of something."

Funny how, when people put faith in me, I usually fail them.

We walked onto the stage, my mind racing. I had been preparing the whole week to do this dialogue with Anastacia. I wanted to make sure and rub it in Jake's face that'd she'd moved on, and was doing just fine without him. I was determined to get this part.

We did everything the same as we practiced. I remembered all my faults, and Anastacia's words to fix them. I spoke as loud as I could, faced the audience at all times, made sure not to make that odd face of discomfort or play with my hair the way I do when I get nervous. I think we did well. Anastacia was amazing, of course. Her fantastic acting made me feel better about becoming my character despite being on stage in front of everyone. It seemed to end quickly. A little too quickly. And oddly, I wanted more.

Then we were forced to do a mime.

While Anastacia was doing hers, I stood there barely watching, racking my brain for a mime I could perform. It seemed as though only milliseconds had gone by when Spiel said, "Conari, its your turn."

I froze for a moment. And during that moment of blankness only one thought blossomed in my head.

There was stool in front of me. I walked around it to be sure the rope was secure, testing the tension by tugging on it. I expertly tied to knot. Then, I walked back around after writing a brief letter, stood up on the stool, fixed the noose around my neck…and stepped off the stool. My gasps were strained, eyes rolling back into my head.

When I opened my eyes, the first thing I noticed was everyone's horrified stares. I had wondered what happened to make everyone react the way they did.

Silence. Seconds, minutes, hours of silence.

Someone in the back gave me a polite clap, forcing everyone else to do the same. It gave me the boost I needed to get off the damn stage.

Once again seated, I could only stare at my lap. What was I thinking? Miming a suicide of all things… What kind of sick person am I?

"C-Conari… Why did you do that of all mimes?"

My sentiments exactly. "I don't know," my voice must have sounded weak because Anastacia leaned forward to hear me. "I'm sorry. I probably lost the part for both of us, huh?"

"No, I don't think it works that way."

In other words, if I lost the part for anyone, it was for myself.

"I think I'm going to leave now, Ana." I muttered shakily while packing up my things.

"Okay, I'll see you tomorrow, Conari."

I stood up and left the auditorium, still jittery from embarrassment. The afternoon sky coaxed me outside. I sighed, letting the cool breezes tease my hair and console my spirit. I closed my eyes, silently enjoying the smells of the seasons changing and the song of nature –even if most of it was covered in concrete.

A soft chuckle broke my peace.

"Conari's your name?"

I turned toward Brent, suddenly feeling angry and embarrassed that she was speaking to me. I growled, "Yeah, why?"

She got off her perch on the stair and came over to me. "Your dialogue was good, but, your mime was the best."

I snorted and turned away dismissively, "Don't mock me."

"But I'm not, really. I think if that Spiel woman has any talent receptors at all you're going to get a part."

I refused to answer, still turned away from her.

Brent snorted, shrugged, then flounced down the stairs to the parking lot. It was my turn to snort.

A giant black and silver chromed truck purred in the parking lot, its occupant honking the horn obnoxiously. It was as if Brent's dad had driven the thing right out of the monster truck show.

Brent opened the door and I caught a glimpse of the driver.

Not dad, then. Mom.

The woman continued honking that loud horn, even though Brent was securely inside. I wanted to shout at them, tell Brent's mom that her passenger was well aware of her presence. I even drew the breath for it when another girl came out. She had her shoulders hunched defensively, her face red from embarrassment. Oddly, the honking stopped as the girl walked down both sets of stairs toward the truck. She was obviously confused. That wasn't her ride…

Then she opened the door of the truck and crawled onto Brent's lap.

What a family...

Before Brent pulled the door shut, I caught a snippet of conversation. Her mother was speaking quite loudly.

"What d'ya mean you 'just like it?!' I had a daughter, not a son! Bethany, what do-"

I watched dumbfounded as the door slammed shut and truck pulled away, the giant engine roaring so loud that a deaf person could hear it.

Bethany. That was her real name.

I knew she was crazy, but not this crazy.

I thought about it for a long while after that. Even as I rode home in my mother's car my mind was set on the question: How could a family like that have come into existence? We have our mother, who obviously hasn't grown out of the mindset of a seventeen-year old –which was, I have to admit, better then I could say for my own mother. Then there was the quiet 'normal' girl who seemed quite distant from the family and, perhaps, even ashamed. Finally, there was the punk rebel. A daughter who tried to be a son: changing her name and covering any signs of feminine curve with baggy clothes. I wondered if… No, she couldn't be… Could she?