The Illusions and Pretensions of Jamie Keller
Disclaimer: I do not own anything you recognise (including the guesses drawn in the beginning of the story from Christina Rosetti's poem 'A Birthday'). The characters, setting and plot are otherwise mine. I'd appreciate it if you do not steal.
"Ms. Keller. Can you tell me what Rosetti is trying to say?"
The AP English teacher is a big, bitter, old bitch. Whenever she asks anyone a question, it is only to disagree with the person who answers and humiliate him or her. But for some reason, the old crone adores Jamie. Then again, everyone adores Jamie– or at least pretends to.
Today, when the teacher asks the question, she is smiling in a way that lets people know that she knows that Jamie is going to give her the right answer.
Jamie flips her hair over her shoulder and raises an eyebrow, a cold smirk on her face. Maybe that is why she gets along with the hag so well– they're both bitches.
In her cold, drawling voice, Jamie says, "I think that Rosetti is trying to find things good, or beautiful enough in nature to be worthy of comparison to how happy she is. And because what she finds is unsuitable, she moves inwards, to create her own perfect world for her love."
I slowly straighten in my seat. "Excellent." The teacher says, a sinister smile on her face. "As usual, an answer worthy of an 'A'."
"I disagree." I slowly say, looking at Jamie. Arguing with Jamie in class is usually the highlight of my day. And oddly enough, from the hungry look on the teacher's face and those of the students, I think it's theirs too. "I think that Rosetti moves from the natural to the artificial world because she realises the vulnerability and inevitability of destruction of all nature's beauty."
Jamie's face is annoyed for a split second, but then she looks determined and haughty as always. Sadly enough, the bell chooses to ring at that exact moment, rousing the masses from their slumber. We can barely hear the teacher give us our homework over the enthusiastic scrape of the chairs.
I head out the door, and am almost to my locker before Jamie catches up with me. "You just love arguing with me, don't you?" She asks me.
"You know I do." I reply.
Again, Jamie is interrupted and I know she hates it. This time, it is because our way is blocked by a slightly overweight girl. "Get out of my way, fatass." Jamie snaps. "And lose a couple hundred pounds while you're at it."
The girl's eyes flood with tears as she hastens to get out of Jamie's way. Jamie sweeps past, back ramrod straight, hair floating behind her and nose in the air. She cannot present a more stuck up picture if she wants to. I look back at the girl, whose head is bowed, and then languorously move to catch up with Jamie. Even though she doesn't need to, Jamie graciously slows down for me and I managed to keep step with her.
I look at Jamie, very laid back. "Is it mandatory for you to be such a bitch?"
"You know it is." She mocks me coldly, but this is the humour I expect from her. I don't say anything as she glides on to her next class. I just watch her go from my locker. And as always, I am struck speechless by the package that is Jamie Keller.
We meet again in gym period, just before lunch, and again, we walk together at the end of the period. We are silent as we dump our things in our respective lockers and head towards the lunchroom. Such is the magic of the relationship that Jamie and I share– we talk when necessary, mock each other when we feel like it and yet, we can be comfortably silent when we want to.
As we enter the cafeteria, heads turn to look at us– two of the most beautiful people in the school. Jamie ignores greetings from her fans as usual, her disgusted look on her face. I just nod, or shake my head at Jamie's rudeness. She doesn't care. She has never cared.
I watch Jamie's plate. She has never had an unhealthy appetite– she eats a burger and a half, salad, a pudding and a diet Coke. Yet still, she has the body that porn movies and my dreams are made of. It amazes me as usual, and makes me grin uncontrollably. It is one of those things I can never hope to understand.
We head towards our usual table, where there are two spaces for us. Her boyfriend sits there, talking to her friend, who is also the Other Woman. Jamie falls into the seat opposite the Boyfriend, I sit next to her.
"Hey, man." The Boyfriend turns to bump fists with me, before grinning winsomely at Jamie. "Hey, sexy."
"Hey, yourself." She says, coyly, with her eyelashes fluttering, I shake my head and get started on my rather large meal.
The Boyfriend and Jamie flirt all through the meal, in their usual sickening way. I just roll my eyes at intervals, not bothered by what's going on around me.
Then, towards the end of the period, one of the hot, fake girls who keep following Jamie around turns to her. "Jamie." She hesitantly says. "I was wondering, what did you decide about that dress we saw in Chanel the other day?"
Jamie doesn't even turn to the acolyte. "You'd look disgusting in it." She coldly says. "Then again, you'd be hard pressed to find something that you wouldn't look disgusting in."
The girl falters and stumbles for a second, before quickly recovering. "So, what do you think I should wear?"
"A paper bag." Jamie says. She stands and looks at me. "Coming?" I raise an eyebrow. She grits her teeth, knowing me well enough to know that I will not go because I do not wish to look like her follower. "Please?" The word actually pains her, I think.
I smirk and stand too. "Since you asked so nicely." I tease. Jamie doesn't smile.
We head out. She stops at the bathroom to check her make-up, I head on to her locker. I stop to talk to people, Jamie ignores them, and so we reach her locker at the same time. We silently spend the rest of lunch there. Afterwards, we split.
At the end of the day, after her student council meeting, Jamie is waiting for me by my car. She has a key, I know. But she treats me like her chauffeur and so; I open the door and mockingly bow her in, ruining the pantomime by shaking my head. She smiles haughtily and slides in gracefully, allowing me to close the door behind her.
When I drop her off at her house, she invites me in. It is as good as my house and her invitation is just for show, still I humour her and act like I needed her permission to enter.
The house is as regal and as empty as ever. All her sisters are off at college, her mother at some soiree and her father at work. The artistic walls of her house are papered with family photos of all five blonde girls with their parents, smiling, kissing each other, hugging, playfully shoving. There is a feel of artificiality, of coldness to me. But that is probably only because I know Jamie so well. To anyone else, the house is only a reflection and proof of Jamie's perfect life.
A week later, a crack appears and is followed by a few more. Jamie and I quickly cover it up, experts at patching up events that threaten her illusion. No one else notices it.
It starts, as always, at a party.
I am standing in a corner and am drinking with a few people; nodding, smiling, winking and occasionally dancing when appropriate. It is tedious, but it is necessary.
Jamie is in a corner, sitting on a chair. She looks to the entire world like a regal queen on her throne– back as ramrod straight as her sleek hair. She flips it over her shoulder and surreptitiously hikes her skirt up a little more, revealing her underwear. I sigh.
Then, I notice her glancing at a shaded corner as if looking for a reaction or monitoring something. The Boyfriend stands there, his arm around the Other Woman's waist, leaning dangerously close. The Other Woman is giggling, but Jamie's impeccable mask never falters– she grins and flirts as usual.
But I know.
The Boyfriend and the Other Woman have been fooling around for almost as long as Jamie has been dating him. Jamie knows, because the Boyfriend never bothers to hide it. But somehow, the rest of the world doesn't know. They think of the Boyfriend as the perfect boyfriend, of the couple as the Couple Who Is Most Likely To Get Married. I think about all the marriages I have seen and figure that indeed, the Boyfriend and Jamie are well suited to becoming a married couple.
Somewhere during the party, I lose track of Jamie. It is getting late and as always, I am her designated driver. So, I go to look for her. Another one of the rare sober people at the party tells me she saw Jamie head upstairs with the Boyfriend. I do not doubt it. They are in the first bedroom I look in.
Jamie is on her knees. The Boyfriend is standing.
I back out and wait by the door. A while later, the Boyfriend comes out and grins at me. He is so drunk that all I can do is shake my head. But he holds his fist out, with an expecting expression on his face and I obligingly bump it, before heading inside.
Jamie is still on her knees. Her head is bowed, the sleek hair falling and obscuring her face like a set of beautiful curtains. She does not look up at my entrance and I know she expects me. I do not say a word, but just stand by the door. By now, I have become proficient at dealing with Jamie when she gets like this.
Jamie's hand shakes as she produces a cigarette from somewhere. She is trembling so badly, it takes her several tries to light the smoke. Then, she inhales and exhales. I notice that she is still shaking.
"He's gone to her." Jamie says, many moments later, voice hoarse. "Her parents aren't in town so he's gone to her place."
I don't say a word, instead moving closer to her and taking her upper arm. I pull her up. She is not drunk, but she totters. When she looks up at me, I see her eyes. They are desperate and wild, though the rest of her is as calm as ever. There is an emotion in them that I see all the time on Jamie, but one that I can never define.
"Do you have a smoke?" Jamie asks, voice pleading as she drops the cigarette butt. I stamp on it to ensure that we don't set the house alight.
"Yeah." I say, taking one out of my pocket.
Jamie looks like she's going to cry– she's that happy. Jamie is addicted to nicotine, I know. But I have never been able to not give her a cigarette when she asks for it. The way I see it, it's her only release. It's all she's got to get rid of the acidic pain that eats her inside.
"Let's go." I say, quietly and I take her arm, leading her away.
"I need to brush my teeth." She suddenly tells me. "And I want some mouthwash. It doesn't taste so good."
Again, I shake my head when I see the real Jamie Keller. And as always, the pity I feel overwhelms me.
"You must be feeling desperately lonely." Jamie's voice is nonchalant and I am willing to bet that her face is as expressionless as usual.
I smile at my wall, glad that she cannot see me. "I'm fine, actually." I say, knowing why she is calling, but wanting her to say it.
"I'm sure." Jamie scoffs. "You know, I can't have you over right now. Mother and Father are having some friends over."
"Do you want me to come over, Jamie?" I ask.
"I don't want you to do anything." Jamie coldly says. "Other than leave me alone."
I ignore her. I am proficient at reading between Jamie's lines. "Are they fighting again?"
She is silent for so long that I am sure she is not going to answer and will just change the topic. Then, the word is breathed so low, that I almost can't hear it. "Yes."
I stretch and reach for a shirt. "You know what? You're right, I am bored here. I'll just come over a for a bit, okay?"
Jamie knows that I heard her answer, but she pretends like she doesn't. "I told you." She says, her voice stronger. "I cannot entertain you."
"I don't need entertainment." I hang up and dress quickly.
I slide easily into the car and head over to Jamie's house. It is as cold as usual, with only a few lights on. When the butler opens the door, I hear voices shouting in the distance. The butler ignores it, I ignore it. We have both learnt the hard way from Jamie that it is the only thing to do.
Jamie is waiting for me in her room, lying on her bed, reading a magazine. I throw my keys down, remove my jacket, shoes and socks. "I hear dinner's ready." I say as I enter.
Jamie looks up at me and stands in a fluid motion. "Good. I just ran twelve miles. I'm starving."
"Twelve miles?" I echo. "One way or both ways?"
"Both." She answers. Her voice is a mixture of pride and anger. "I wanted to do more, but then decided that I better be at home– I know how desperate you are for my company."
I let her think what she wants as we head down to the dining room. The table is a long oak affair, very elegant, very cold and impersonal. All the occupants of the various portraits on the wall seem to be glaring at us as both of us sit down– two humans too small for the big room.
Jamie eats like a cow, making me grin foolishly through the entire meal. Afterward, we head upstairs and Jamie goes to change. I head for a shower. By the time I emerge, Jamie is in bed again, reading her magazine. Her lingerie is painfully sheer. But I barely notice it. I remove my pants and shirt. Only in my boxers, I slide into Jamie's bed.
I lie face down and look at her. She pretends not to notice me. I close my eyes. As I expected, she now finds it easier to talk to me.
"They're getting a divorce." She flips a page. "They're arguing about which one has to keep me." Jamie continues. "Did you know I'm illegitimate?" She is fake calm, but I wonder whether she knows that I know what's going on inside. Even if she does, Jamie will pretend like I don't.
The subject change throws me off for a moment. But still, I keep silent. Everyone knows that Jamie is illegitimate. Her father's illicit relationship with his partner is the best-kept public secret of the town. And of course, when Jamie's mother hadn't even been pregnant but had produced Jamie, everyone had realised.
Apparently, Jamie had chosen not to believe the whispers or maybe, she was pretending. I am not surprised. Pretending is what Jamie Keller does best.
She nods, purposely misinterpreting my silence. "Yes. I'm illegitimate. Apparently, Father hates me because I am a physical reminder of the woman who screwed him over. And of course, Mother hates me because I am a physical reminder of the woman who screwed her husband."
For a moment, there is silence. "Do you have a cigarette?" Jamie suddenly asks.
For the first time, I lie. "No." I don't even bother opening my eyes. "Come to sleep, Jamie. I'm tired."
She nods and carelessly throws the magazine aside. She slides under the covers and pushes herself against me. She claps her hands and the lights go out, just as I wrap an arm around her waist. She starts kissing my chest and begins moving downwards.
I grab her upper arm. "Don't." My voice is deadly cold. For the first time, Jamie chooses not to ignore it and lets me drag her back up. After that, it doesn't take long for Jamie to fall asleep.
I am awake for the longest time. Just as I feel like I am about to drift off, Jamie stirs beside me. I fake slumber as she slips off the bed. The bathroom light flares orange against the insides of my eyelids for a moment before the door shuts with a click.
Immediately, I am on my feet and stumbling for the bathroom. She has not locked it. I push open the door and for a moment, I am frozen.
Jamie is hunched over the toilet, having not noticed my entrance. She sticks her finger down her throat and retches; bringing back every morsel of the large meal I admired her for eating. I let her do what she wants, not bothering to interrupt.
It is only as she is standing up that she notices me. She freezes. I walk over, my eyes hooked onto hers. I raise my hand and she flinches. Another crack appears in her seemingly perfect relationship with her boyfriend. But I don't hit her. I calmly flush the toilet.
Her head falls; her hair creates the curtain that she seems to think protects her against the world– the walls she puts around her perfect life so that no one sees that it is just an illusion.
I take her face in my hands and lift her eyes to mine. It is too much for her. She steps back and looks at me. She is standing straight again. She flips her hair over her shoulder and with that motion, the mask is back on her face. She is haughty and cold as ever. Jamie has never looked more perfect in her life, and yet, I have never felt sorrier for her.
She goes to the sink and systematically brushes her teeth and gargles with mouthwash. "Let's go to sleep." She says, once she is done. She ignores my searching eyes and heads back to her bed. I flick off the light and follow her.
She lies with her back to me, but then, I turn her over. Her eyes meet mine. Not letting our hooked gazes break, I lean forward and softly, gently kiss her on either cheek. She closes her eyes as though my emotion is too painful for her. I press my cheek against hers and my breath falls in her ear. She takes a deep breath.
"I love you, Jamie." I whisper.
I don't give her a chance to answer. I don't want her to reply. Then, I pull her even nearer to me. I hold my closest, oldest friend against my chest and wrap my body tightly around hers, holding her so close I know that I am going to suffocate her, so close that I know I am going to be sore the next morning. Her face is pressed against my bare chest.
And this time, it is I who pretends not to notice when Jamie lets out a shuddering sigh and lets her tears fall.
A/N: This has been eating away at my insides for the longest time. Yes, I know that it's unusual in both style (notice the first person point of view and the short length?) and content (almost no romance or humour). And I know that it's really rough, and not honed, or whatever. But I thought this raw kind of style really suited the story. Though, of course, this will be thoroughly edited and re-edited to death in the future. Anyway, still, leave me your thoughts in a review– good or bad.
I know that I haven't updated Katie-Ann in ages, but I'm really sorry, I've been busy. And, what's worse, I probably won't be able to for a while. Details on my profile page.