"You can't be such a wet blanket all the time, Shiloh," Aubrey said with a huff, brushing her hair out of her face as she peered down the hall. It was filled with students, buzzing with them, and their voices echoed loudly off the walls. "This is our first chance to make a good impression. We've got to gel."
I cast her a critical look, my hand tightening on the strap of my backpack, which was slung over my shoulder. "Let's just stick to the freshman hall."
She pivoted around, hands on her hips, blonde hair whooshing behind her. "Don't be such a wimp! You've got to man up, Shiloh. Show them who's boss."
What the flying shit was she talking about?
I backed up a couple of steps, eyeing the senior corridor with a bit of trepidation. "I'm going to find my locker."
Aubrey grabbed my arm, fingernails digging in, and sighed. "Come on. I want to be in. This is our only chance," she practically whined, making a sound similar to a dog whimpering. She stared up at me, lips forced into a small pout, shimmering with pink lipstick or lip gloss or whatever the hell girls wore on their lips.
"You just said it was our first chance," I muttered, frowning, "and now you're saying it's our only chance."
She groaned. "You have no idea how important this is! Don't you know? Your first day of high school always dictates how the entire year will go -- hell, even the whole four years. You don't want to throw it all away just because you're afraid," she said quickly, her hand tightening. "It would be a tragedy." She sighed, and then, shooting me a dark look, added, "And pretty damn lame."
I ignored her tirade and instead focused on un-prying her fingers from my arm. The hall was clearing out; a few curious glances were tossed our way. Time was ticking at it wouldn't be long until grace period was over and we'd have to be in class. The last thing I wanted was to be late for my first class. Actually, no. Scratch that. The absolute last thing I wanted was for someone to think that Aubrey and I were in a relationship -- but she was so hands-on all the time, it was hard to tell.
"I'm going to find my locker," I said again, having succeeded in separating her suction-like grip from me.
"Wait," she muttered, slipping her backpack off her shoulder. She held it out to me expectantly just as the bell rang. "I have to go to the bathroom." She looked to me again, brushing her hair back, and her face took on a pleading expression. "Wait for me?"
Hell no! I had a class to be in!
I shrugged, taking hold of the backpack. "Whatever. Just make it quick."
"Duh." Letting a frustrated sigh escape -- although for what reason, I had no idea -- she turned on her heel and hurried down the hall. I wondered if she even knew where the bathroom was. Probably not. And then we'd both be really late for class. How's that for first impressions?
I stood in the hall, feeling rather stupid, glancing around as I eventually came to the conclusion that I was now alone. There was a bench near a large double-window at the end of the hall and I set our bags down there, interest piqued by some of the paintings that hung along the walls. I assumed they were student-done. We'd had the same sort of thing at the middle school.
The clock mounted high up on the wall, just above the door to a classroom, read 8:16. One minute late already. And then it'd take a good five minutes to find our way back to the freshman hall. I was already dreading the thought.
Why had I even let Aubrey drag me all the way down to the senior corridor, anyway? I knew there wasn't time. And all she wanted was to hobnob with some of them; try to make friends so that she could be in the cool crowd right off the bat and impress her other friends. Why she had to involve me in this, I had no idea. She knew it didn't hold the same allure for me as it did for her.
Although, I had to admit, I liked her persistence. It was both detrimental and advantageous to her personality. With it, she'd managed to pull off quite a few otherwise bizarre feats in the last few years I'd known her. Without it, she might have actually gotten a boyfriend by now.
I smiled a little at the thought.
If she did have a boyfriend, that would probably shove me out of the picture completely. She'd be spending all of her time with him and then I'd lose her company.
I didn't want that.
I had a pretty normal life; average everything. Aubrey was my spontaneity, even if it was predictable.
Which, I guess, is a bit of an oxymoron.
My attention snapped back to reality as the sound of flip-flops clicking off the tile flooring reached my ears. I leaned back against the wall, slipping my hands into the pocket of my hoodie, and for a moment, just prayed that whoever was coming wasn't a teacher.
If it was, what would I say?
My mind started racing, searching for excuses; just reaching out for any simple, stupid reason that I could conjure up.
"Hey, you! Yeah. . . I need to talk to you!"
I blinked, slightly taken aback as I realized the girl rushing down the hall was addressing me. I gave her a confused look and she nodded fervently in return, a smile reaching her lips.
"Do you have a moment?" she asked, quieter this time. Her paced slowed a bit and she clipped the cell phone she'd been carrying onto a belt loop of her jeans.
Nodding vaguely, I pushed off from the wall. Momentarily, I glanced past her, to see if Aubrey was on her way back yet. She wasn't.
"What do you need?" I found myself mumbling; she stopped about two feet in front of me, and even from there, I could smell her perfume. Her hair was long; black and straight, and held out of her eyes by something that looked oddly like. . . a tie. A men's tie.
She fingered the end of it, absently pushing it behind her shoulder so that it was hidden by her hair. Her smile was genial; vibrant, and she stood slightly off-kilter with one hip cocked.
"I need your help with something," she said tiredly, rubbing her arm, but the smile remained. She looked older than me. Definitely a junior or a senior. And pretty, too. Tilting her head to the side, she pursed her lips for a moment, and then asked, "Think you can help?"
"Um, sure." I nodded suddenly once I realized I'd been staring. Quickly, I tried to regain my nonchalant manner. "What'd you need?"
Her lips twitched, like she was fighting off something. Amused. "Meet me in the art room during lunch. At the start, actually."
"Okay." I nodded again, after a moment, but I wasn't sure why. Did I even know where the art room was?
She must've noticed my hesitance, because she quickly said, "It's not anything weird. Don't worry about that." She laughed. "Promise?"
Another nod. "Okay."
"Great." Her smile grew wider and she laughed again; it was a pleasant sound, so I didn't mind. "See you then."
I watched as she left, following her with my eyes as it felt like the rest of me had been frozen in place.
A moment later, an all too familiar voice rang out in the hall.
"Oh my God!" Aubrey squealed, and I whirled around to see her approaching, quickly. "Was that Caramel Peters? Oh my -- She talked to you!" Once within distant, she grabbed a handful of my sweatshirt, mouth opening and closing, soundlessly, a few times. "No way. How'd you do that?"
Brow cinching, I regarded her suspiciously for a moment, because yes, this was scary. Even for Aubrey.
"Get her to talk to you, duh."
I shrugged and she finally released the hoodie. "She said she needed help with something." I glanced down the hall, where the girl -- or Caramel, was it? -- had disappeared to.
Aubrey blinked. "What would she want with you? She's a senior. I mean, what could she possibly need help with that -- "
"We have to get to class," I said, scooping up our bags from the bench. I handed hers over to her. "Or else we'll probably get detention or something."
"You can't just ignore this, Shiloh," she said desperately, but when I started to head down the hall, she came right along. "This is like, a sign. That's what it is. A sign from God that this is gonna be a great year. I mean, Caramel Peters. . ."
Time passed rapidly from then, and as my dull curiosity grew to genuine intrigue.
What sort of way was that to approach someone for help?
And what did she need help with in the first place?
The lunch bell rang out and all the desks around me immediately shifted; everyone sifted out of the room, jamming through the door.
I intentionally avoided entering Aubrey's line of sight as I browsed for the art room. Sure, it was mean, but she'd get over it.
It was easy to spot the room -- even from down the hall. The entryway was topped with a giant paper-mache paintbrush that looked like it had been made by pre-schoolers. One of the heavy red doors were held open with a piece of split firewood, the floor around it splattered with dried paint drops.
The light was on and so I entered, a slight apprehension still lingering in my mind. I looked around, skimming over the room itself, which was in a jumble. Nothing seemed to be organized or cleaned. Maybe this was the norm in all art rooms. I wouldn't know. I did sports instead.
But it was empty. Void of life. I scratched the back of my head, looking left and right. Nope. Nobody else was here.
Frowning, I climbed over a roll of carpeting, which allowed access further into the room. There were large wooden tables, all of them covered in large sheets of paper, filled with colors, shapes, and figures. Didn't this place get cleaned during the summer? Why was it already a mess?
I put a finger to the edge of one of the papers. It was thicker than it looked; textured. Something was painted onto it -- a scene of a little girl feeding a duck -- and it looked like water colors.
It was pretty good, I had to admit. Especially if someone here painted it. Maybe the art teacher? In that case, it wasn't so impressive.
I gave the painting a last look and continued along the aisle created between the tables.
"Oh, good. You came."
I turned around immediately, for a moment gaze wandering, because -- where the hell was the door? Oh. There it was.
Caramel stood at the threshold, one hand at the frame. She wore the same smile as earlier, and before I had the chance to respond, she slipped inside.
"I'm so glad you came," she said, laughing a bit. "I thought I might've scared you off."
I closed my mouth, forging up a smile in return, and unconsciously, my tongue ran along my teeth. Bad habit.
"It won't take up your whole break," she told me, stretching both arms behind her. She sighed as she looked around the room, green eyes darting from table to table. "I just need you to help me organize some stuff."
Yet again, I offered only a dumb nod in return. She must've thought I was retarded by now. Great first impression.
She stopped once she was beside me, turning so that she was facing the doorway as well. "You made the view look so interesting," she mumbled, then pushed off of it and stood in front of me, feet shifting. "What's your name?"
For a moment, my mouth wouldn't open. If I spoke right away, I probably would've bitten off my tongue.
"Shiloh," I managed to reply, hands in my pockets once more.
She smiled -- not that she'd ever stopped -- but it seemed to grow. Extending her hand to me, she said, "I'm Caramel."
For real? People actually named their kid that?
I shook her hand, briefly, and mumbled, "Nice to meet you."
Her smile turned to a smirk as she withdrew her hand. "Same to you." Shoulders slumping, she sifted air between her teeth as she surveyed the room. "I need to clear out my stuff," she said, somewhat tiredly. The energy of her tone seemed to have dropped a notch. "On the tables and on the walls." She frowned, crossing her arms as her eyes darted around the area. "And in the front hallway."
Okay. So she wanted me to help her clean up some stuff. No biggie.
"So basically," she began again, gesturing, "I need all of them in a pile. The ones on the table. And then some of the ones on the wall are mine, too." She gesticulated absently. "I started this this morning, but then I had class, so. . ." She tapered off, then nodded firmly. "Yeah."
She touched my shoulder, causing me to involuntarily flinch, and only then did I realize that again, I'd been staring. Holy shit. What was wrong with me?
"Are you okay?" she asked.
I shrugged, moving away from her for reasons beyond me. "Yeah. Yeah. Why not?" I quickly turned my attention to the table closest, picking up the first thing that I came into contact with. Some sort of drawing of a landscape. Clearing my throat, I queried, "So you drew this?"
She looked at it and then nodded. "Pretty crappy, right?"
I was about to answer when she gently tugged it out of my hand.
"You don't have to comment on it," she said dimly, eyeing it with distaste. She tossed it to another table.
It seemed to defeat the purpose of what she wanted done, but I didn't question it.
"Which ones on the wall are yours?" I asked, head tilting upwards as I squinted at the art displayed above the blackboard. When was this place built, anyway? A blackboard?
"Um. . ." She pursed her lips as she looked up. "Well, all of them on that wall. Just rip 'em down. You don't have to be careful." She laughed. "I'll get started on the ones near the window."
I mumbled back, "Okay," and walked over to the blackboard, stretching one arm to reach the first display there. It was only taped to the wall, and so it came off easily. I briefly glanced at it -- not wanting to put too much thought into it -- and set it on a table.
Several minutes passed and the walls were bare of anything she'd created. We'd piled them onto the table closest to the door and she took some time straightening them, trying to get all of the edges to line up.
"What're you gonna do with these?"
She looked up, expression revealing that she was genuinely surprised by the question. I'd caught her when she wasn't smiling.
But not for long.
A small grin came to her lips and she averted her eyes to the papers again, shrugging. "Oh, I've got something planned."
The words held an edge to them that I wasn't sure how to read.
"Can you come with me to my locker?" she asked suddenly, cocking her head to the side.
Was I allowed to say no?
"Great." She smiled. "You're awesome."
We reached her locker, and I found myself carrying the stack of papers now. She rummaged through her locker, which was surprisingly er, decorated for it only being the first day of school, and fished out what looked like a book.
"Just one last thing," she mumbled, leaning against her locker door so that it shut. She turned the book in her hands, and I realized it wasn't really a book at all. One of those fake ones that needed a lock to open -- like a jewelry box. "Come with me to the roof?"
I nodded and followed suit as she headed down the hall, towards a staircase that I hadn't noticed before. Briefly, I wondered what Aubrey was up to. Eating, probably. She'd be mad that I "abandoned" her. That's the way she'd see it. Then she'd drag me with her somewhere -- probably the mall or something and insist that I owed it to her. She'd probably make me buy something for her, too.
At the top, Caramel opened a door there and sunlight poured in, nearly blinding me before my eyes adjusted. We exited onto the roof and I let the door swing shut behind me before it occurred that maybe it was one of those lock-from-the-inside ones. Hopefully not.
The roof was lined with a short ledge; parts were chipped away and worn down. Caramel went towards the edge, wind whipping through her hair, and she looked to me, waving her hand.
"Over here," she said, patting the space beside her. She sat down, fiddling with the box from her locker.
I lowered myself next to her, where she indicated, and cast her a wary glance, slightly bothered by the fact that we were three stories up, on a roof with a ledge no taller than a curb. My fingers were smeared with oil pastel and chalk that had rubbed off from the drawings. I rubbed them off on my jeans and held tightly onto the papers as the wind tore at them.
Caramel gave a frustrated sigh, roughly setting aside the box, and brushed the hair out of her eyes. She reached for one of the papers, regarding it momentarily before releasing it. Wind caught it and swept it away in a downward spiral.
Um. . . what the hell?
"What're you doing?" I couldn't help but ask, gripping the pictures almost possessively.
"It needs to go," she replied simply. She reached for another and tossed it over the edge. She watched its decent, then turned to me again, offering a smile. "Can you hand me the rest?"
I did, watching with a trace amount of confusion mixed with horror as she chucked the whole stack off the building. Bits of color flashed, jerked around by the strong breeze, and she grabbed the box now, inserting a key and turning it. The lid popped open and inside were nearly a dozen gold coin-shaped rounds, and underneath them, several folded envelopes. She dumped the entirety of its contents onto the floor.
I picked up one of the coins, not really caring about formalities, because I was confused enough at the moment. It was a medal, I realized. '1st Prize. Essay Write-Away '08'. I glanced over the other ones; all medals, awarding achievements in sports, writing, singing, and even something for sign language.
For a moment -- just a flicker of a second -- it occurred to me that this was as close to perfection that I would ever get.
Caramel gathered a scoop of them in her hands and let them fall over the edge.
Okay. This was just getting weird now.
She picked up the few she'd missed and threw them over as well. Quickly, I pocketed the one I'd been holding. That way, once her bout of insanity passed, she would at least have one left.
Next, she turned to the envelopes, unfolding them.
"What're those?" I asked, finding my voice again.
"Acceptance letters," she said dismally. "Julliard, Dartmouth, Yale, the usual." She palmed the first envelope and dropped it over the side.
I cleared my throat. "Why're you doing this?"
"Because it means nothing."
I frowned, uncertainty growing. "How can you say that?"
"Because it's the truth, silly." She looked at me and smiled, then shook her head. "Where do I go from here?"
Without thinking -- not that it would've done much good, anyway -- I snatched the other three envelopes from her and shoved them into the pocket of my hoodie.
"Let's go back in," I said, trying to sound convincing. "I think you need to go to -- "
"Don't," she bit out, gaze suddenly hardening. "I've already made up my mind."
I nodded slowly, moving back a little. "O-okay." I turned my attention to the scenery below again, which was now dotted with gold that caught the light, and rectangles of color. "No offense," I started, scratching the back of my neck, "but why couldn't you do all of this yourself?"
She closed the box and pushed it away from her. "Because I need a witness," she replied after the pause, then meeting my gaze as she got to her feet, "Thanks for doing this. I'll put in a good word for you."
Before I had a chance to even comprehened that, she was standing on the ledge, arms spread out.
And then she was gone.