Pained Perfection

Seraphine

I scolded myself for throwing random glances at William throughout first recess, but I couldn't help it. These days, William spent his recesses with Sam and Zoe, since he and I couldn't be friends during school hours. For the time being, I'd taken my usual place on top of the rocks, behind trees so no one could see me. Funny, I'd never cared about looking like a loser before, but since William and I became friends, that changed. I wanted to show people that I could be a friend, maybe only to see their shocked faces. No, I actually wanted to show them because, at the moment, I couldn't.

This whole situation felt so stupid. Stupid Sam, stupid Zoe. I picked off a piece of the rock and flicked it over the edge, watching it fall until I couldn't see it anymore. I didn't blame William for wanting to stay friends with everyone, but he was my friend, too! Why should I be the outcast? Oh right, because I didn't have any other friends.

'Shut up. It's only for now. Only for now.' I mean, this dumb rage Zoe had with me had to end sometime, right?

Why exactly was she so pissed off at me? Sure, I still felt terrible for hitting William, and if that was the reason, I didn't blame her. But to make William choose between friends, when he chose to forgive me?

My memory strayed to that day in the office when Zoe sobbed to Sam and William about her brother. Could her brother have anything to do with this? Maybe she'd just been in a major bad mood because of that. She'd said he almost hurt their mom.

'You know, you remind me of him. You ruin everything!' Right. I remembered that, but it still didn't make sense; Zoe had been mean to me before her brother disappeared.

How did Zoe's brother go missing anyway? What did she mean by missing? I mean, if he knew where he was going, then he wouldn't really be missing. He might not have known where he was going, I knew that feeling pretty well, but you'd have to make a point of getting lost if you wanted to go missing in Willowcrest. Even if he had been lost, someone would have found him. There weren't a lot of places to hide in...

A chill shook my spine. Maybe he- no, no the chances of that had to be almost impossible! But he'd almost hurt his mom; he'd been really angry when he left. Surely if he could hurt his own mom, a criminal organization wasn't too far outside his options.

I shook my head, trying to get all those thoughts out. Even if Zoe's brother had joined this organization thing, I couldn't do anything about it.

What was William doing? To stop my thoughts from going back to Zoe's brother, I focused on my friend. Sam and Zoe still stood by the playground, but William had walked away, and was looking at my rock. He knew I sat here.

I made my way down the rock and tried to follow William as casually as possible. The school yard was very long, and had many possible hiding places. The school itself had four entrances, a door on each wall. The front door was used by teachers, the left door by grade sevens and eights, the center door by fours to sixes, and the right door by ones to threes. William and I met by the right door, since there was a smaller chance that anyone we knew would see us.

"What?" I asked him as we leaned against the door, pressing ourselves into shadows. I felt like a criminal hiding from the cops. Huh, maybe this was how Henry felt all the time.

A guilty look passed over William's face, "Just wanted to say hi. I-I know you're up there all alone. It's the least I can do, you know? It's not fair to you, I'm really sorry."

"It's okay. It sucks up there, but I get why it's like this." I dropped my gaze, kicking a few pebbles out of my way.

"I thought this would be easier."

I nodded, agreeing with that. When William and I made our "secret-friendship" agreement, the plan seemed so much simpler. I felt pretty sure we were thinking the same thing; there had to be a way to fix everything.

"So-so you ready for the unit test?" I fumbled for a new conversation.

He shrugged, "'Bout as ready as I can be. I always choke on unit tests. You? All the studying we did helping?"

The moment he mentioned our study sessions, a flurry of random science facts buzzed around in my brain. I smiled, feeling a little more confident over fourth period's unit test. "Yeah, I think-"

"William?" Crap! Zoe found us. William jumped out of the way of the door, and I scrambled to find an excuse for being here with him.

"I-uhh-" He shuffled and fidgeted, but no real words came out of his mouth.

"Uhh- I'm not going to let you in until you talk to me, William!" I started slowly, coming up with a story on the spot. 'Please let him play along.'

"I don't uh- have anything to say to you, Seraphine." He walked away, faking annoyance. I had to stifle a laugh; his act didn't look convincing, but it had to do.

"You can go to hell, William!" I added in for good measure as the two headed back to the playground. William snapped around, and for a second, I thought I saw him smiling.

"So can you, Seraphine!"

There. The show was over; if Zoe believed us, she'd think we hated each other. To be honest though, I got the feeling we'd just made our situation a lot more complicated.

'Either way, I made myself into the villain for you. Hope you appreciate it!' Although judging by his smile, I figured he did.

Hell this walk took forever! I walked to school every day, twice the walking distance, but it seemed so much longer today. I wanted to see William, today especially. I couldn't wait to tell him; I couldn't believe it myself!

As usual, we'd taken different paths to the park, so no one would see us walking together. Save for a few close calls, we'd been pretty good at keeping hidden. Finally, I turned onto Stonefair Crescent; only a few more steps! There, by the bench! Was that him, or was there some William look-alike creeping around town? I adjusted my backpack and started running, a stupid grin not able to hold itself back.

"Woah, hey!" William jumped and backed up as soon as he caught sight of me. I laughed and all but jumped on him. This had to be the best thing that ever happened to me!

"Thankyouthankyouthankyou!"

"You're welcome?" He gave me a light pat on the back, probably a sign he wanted me to let go. Oops. I loosened my arms from his neck and dropped my backpack. I unzipped it, dug out a small package of papers, and handed it to him.

"Look at it." I kinda wanted to bite my nails, even though I didn't have the bad habit. I hung off every movement as he examined the first page of the package.

He blinked a few times, and I swore I saw a glint in his eyes, but a second later his face went all serious. He gave the papers back to me. "It-it's okay. I mean, it's not fantastic but-" he shrugged, the high slowly melted away; something inside me sank.

He swatted my arm, "I'm kidding! This is amazing!"

I puffed the air out of my lungs, not sure whether I wanted to laugh or strangle him. I chose the first one, though, "95% is an A, right?"

"Yep!"

"I got an A on the unit test!" The big, stupid grin came back.

This time he suffocated me with his arms, "I told you!"

I sighed; I felt so happy, I wanted to cry. For more than one reason, though, "You know, this is the first- well, second hug I've ever had."

He stopped moving, and took a step back to look at my face; he seemed really sad for me. I rolled my eyes; I didn't need pity from him!

"Ever? You haven't been hugged by anyone?"

I shook my head; I didn't have to second-guess myself on that face. "At least that I know. Maybe my mom, but..." I flopped my hand back and forth, letting him finish that thought.

He hugged me again, and this time there was no awkwardness, no back-pats, no suffocating, just a hug. Comforting, friends, and warm.

"You're a good hugger." I giggled and gave him a slight squeeze before we let go.

He smirked as he backed away, "I just think hugs are an essential part of life."

"What does that mean?" We headed toward the swings without even agreeing on it.

"Essential?" He bit his lip, "It means it's something you need. That's what my parents told me, at least."

I nodded, wishing I had parents like William's, "What's your family like?"

He did a double-take at my question. "We're pretty close, I guess." He climbed onto a swing and dangled his legs uselessly.

I grabbed the swing next to him, "You don't sound too happy." I never would've guessed that William didn't get along with his parents; the he'd said it didn't sound entirely truthful.

His eyes bugged out for a moment, and he laughed nervously, "No really, I like my family. I just- y'know, I-I feel bad about-"

"About talking about it with me?" I finished for him. He didn't say anything, so I turned away and began pumping my legs to get the swing going. I felt really small in the wide swing seat, and couldn't get very high up. Damn it.

"Wh-what did I- oh," he paused again, "I'm sorry."

'Sorry?' I stuck my right foot out, which hit the frost-hardened sand so hard I almost fell off the swing. I tried keeping the rising heat in my stomach under control as I spoke, "Don't be sorry. I don't wanna hear sorry, okay?"

He looked away, but I still saw the sorry on his face. I pushed myself off the swing, ready to leave; I didn't want to be sad around William.

"Wait, wait! Oh come on!" I heard clanging chains and hollow footsteps behind me. I stopped to let him catch up; he was right. We only had an hour and a half together every day, we didn't have time to say stupid things like this.

"I just don't want to be different." I played with a hole in the seam of my shirt. We wasted a minute to awkward silence, before I decided to bring us over the the play-structure. For once, I felt like being younger than I was; this stupid friend-drama got on my nerves. Besides, Henry had told me I needed to have some kind of a childhood. I wasn't that much of a child; I'd be a teenager next year anyway, but for now I just wanted to say Screw it to all my responsibilities. I leapt onto the side of one of the three plastic towers and climbed to the top.

"This is kids' stuff. We're twelve." William laughed from the sand below me.

I shrugged, scanning the street and sunset. Sunsets in late fall looked pretty dreary- no snow for the sun to shine off of, a gray tinge to every colour of the sky, and the dead-ness of everything. Even the normally brilliant colours of the play-structure looked dead. It didn't have to be, though; it we were happy enough, we wouldn't have to notice the weather.

I smiled down at William, "Who cares? Who's gonna see us? That's kinda the point of our friendship, isn't it?"

He cocked his head to the side, his lips pursed, but soon he broke into a grin and climbed up beside me. I examined the structure. Three towers, all together in an L formation. Each tower had a stack of wide, short holes for climbing. The first and second tower were connected by a swoopy bridge, that ducked under your weight. The second tower and the one William and I stood on, the third tower, were connected by monkey bars.

I swallowed; I'd never really learned how to cross those. As little kids, mastering the monkey bars made you a pretty awesome person. So, pretty obvious how popular I was.

Still, I felt brave, and I couldn't tell William that I didn't know how to cross them, so I shuffled to the edge of the tower, grabbed the first bar, and let myself drop. I dangled uselessly, but tried to make it look like I knew what I was doing, like I wasn't really trying or something. Soon, though, my hands got sweaty, and the metal pinched my skin. I bit my lip, and struggled to keep my hold. I made a desperate jump for the second bar, but I missed, and fell.

"You okay?" William poked his head over the edge, staring as I sat breathless on the sand.

I shook my head out, as if sand got caught in my brain. "I'm good," I pushed myself onto my feet, "I just suck at these."

He nodded, "They're kinda tricky, they hurt sometimes, too. They give me blisters." Just as he said it, I felt my palms burning. I flipped them upward to see bright red splotches just below my fingers. I wrung my hands and wiped them on my jeans, trying to get the tingling out.

Then, William grabbed the first bar and swung himself to the second. Without stopping, he reached for the third, then the fourth. 'Show off.' I grumbled at his skill; he got to the second tower with no problem.

"See? Wanna try again?" He grinned and stretched his arms for the bars again. I returned the smile and set myself back at the third tower, facing him. The bars were wide enough to let us pass without bumping into each other.

Again, I shuffled off the tower, one hand holding the first bar, the other holding the second. William jumped and grabbed his second bar, too. Only two more, and we'd be beside each other. I could already feel my fingers slipping. My palms yelled at me after the burn I put them through, but I couldn't give up. I stuck one hand out and swung back, then forth. Got it! I swung forward again and met the fourth bar just as William did.

I tried to stare him down for a moment. Bad move, though, stupid move; one moment was all my fingers needed to slip! I couldn't let William win, though; he'd laugh at me! William started passing me, but I hooked my arm around his waist, and let go of the bar. He fell with me.

We crashed into the hardened sand. The arm I had around William, my nearly healed right arm, stung with the impact.

"What?" William looked between me and the monkey-bars above us, he locked onto me, though, "You're a horrible person to race!"

I laughed, "No, I'm just a horrible person."

He rolled his eyes, and fell back to lie in the sand, "True." He grinned up at me.

Somehow, his agreement didn't sit right with me. Stupid, since I'd brought it on myself, and I wasn't really hurt by it. It just felt awkward coming from the guy I hurt once; it reminded me of many arguments I'd had with myself.

"So do you like your parents?" I asked, passing him a glance. When we raced, I'd forgotten I was mad at him for not telling me. Now seemed like a pretty good time to talk.

He sat up, looking down, but seeming relaxed. "Yeah, they're nice and everything, and they're not strict." He pushed himself off the ground, and we followed each other to the first tower, "Well, sometimes, but it's fair when they are. Sometimes they're kinda overprotective, but I can't think of anything else wrong with them, so I'm not complaining too much."

I nodded as we climbed up the tower and ran down the swoopy bridge. We sat over the edge, and let it swing us around, "Any siblings?"

"Nope. My parents want more kids, though."

The bridge stopped moving, so I wiggled it, to get it swinging again, "Do you want a brother or sister?"

He shrugged, "I dunno. When I was little I pretty much begged my parents for a brother. Didn't happen. But, you know, it's okay being an only child. Kinda lonely sometimes, though."

I nodded, knowing how he felt there.

"I was actually supposed to have a twin."

I felt like a dull object hit me in the head; I couldn't see it. Another William? I tried to imagine a copy of him sitting right beside us. Too weird; twins were weird, but cool though. "Really? Why don't you?"

I don't know. Twins tend to run in my family, but I was just the weird one out." He stopped, and started picking off a loose piece of wood off the bridge. "This is really boring, I'm not that interesting." He frowned at the speck of wood he'd picked off, before flicking it away. I shook my head; he didn't know it, but I found the difference between my family and his really interesting. I could pick out how screwed up my dad really was.

I heard him sigh, "It's getting dark."

My heart sank; he was right. The gray-ish glow had faded into a bluish gray glow, and the temperature had dropped. Our heat wasn't keeping the bridge warm anymore; my legs were numb. Eventually, after sliding off our butts and falling onto the sand again,William and I made our way out of the park. We walked together down the street, he even stayed with me until we reached Stonefair Forest.

"See you tomorrow." I tried to smile cheerfully for him; for some reason, he looked very tired. I wanted to ask what was wrong, but I didn't know if he wanted to say. I didn't want to make things worse.

"Yeah, bye 'Fina." He gave me one more quick hug and a half-smile before turning back to the street. I pulled him back, though. What had he just called me?

"What's a 'Fina?" It kinda sounded like a different language.

He went bright red and started shuffling on the spot, like he always did when he didn't know what to say, "I-I was thinking about it last night. You-your name's pretty long, and kinda weir- uh, unusual."

I laughed, "I know my name's weird, don't worry about it. What's 'Fina, then?"

More shuffling, "Well, I looked up your name. Did you know that it's actually short for another name?"

"Short? For what?" My name was already eight letters long! I tried to imagine a longer, more insane name like mine. Something really crazy, like... Seraphinimonolopiah... or something.

"Seraphina. So I just though 'Fina. Like a nickname, you know? I dunno, if you don't like it..."

I repeated the name over in my head, until it started sounding weird. But really, I kinda liked it. I did like it; it felt right. My very own nickname, given to me by my only friend. Somehow, I thought that that should make him the only person who could use it. I couldn't imagine any of our classmates calling me that, or my teachers, or worse, Dad.

"I like it. A lot." It was strange to think I even had a nickname now.

He seemed to cheer up a bit, "Cool. So I can call you that, now?"

"For sure." I looked over his shoulder, and frowned at the darkening sky, the cold air in my lungs, and the smell of frozen mud. As much as I didn't want to leave, I didn't want to get into too much trouble with Dad. "I've gotta go now."

He nodded and started backing away, "See you tomorrow, 'Fina."

"Bye." That sealed it. William was the only one allowed to call me 'Fina.

All the way home, I couldn't stop smiling. Whatever hanging-out time we missed during the day, we always made up for after school. A part of me hoped that Zoe would never stop being mad at me, just so I could have these hours with William every day after school. There moments belonged to only William, and me.