Learning to Breathe
Chapter 1: Locked and Loaded
I watched as Tara fussed with her hair. Not for the first time, I questioned the verdict of the hospital workers who were there during our birth. Twins? We couldn't be more different. Her hair was sun-bleached, a multitude of shades lighter and much, much longer than my dark brown. She was also a good inch or two taller than me, and ridiculously girly.
Me? I'm not a slob by any means, but I'm comfortable in jeans, a shirt, and some funky sneakers. Why bother with the pinching heels and flats and frills and laces?
I sighed, loudly, in hopes conveying my impatience. I wasn't too keen on being late to the orientation. Tara shot me a dirty look, but, to her credit, she sped her way through the rest of her morning ritual.
Thankfully, we'd been well prepared enough to pack and load our bags into the car last night. But still, I had trouble calming my nerves. During the car ride there, Dad rambled on and on about how we had to take care of ourselves, how he couldn't always be there to take care of us, and how teenage boys were evil, evil beings who only wanted to get you naked so you can do the horizontal tango with them.
Tara had kept her iPod in her pockets and was silently rocking out to her music, probably one of the earlier boybands, like Backstreet Boys or Nsync. But I had left my Zune in my backpack, which was probably being jostled by the other luggage bags in the trunk. So in my mind I silently played out the scenario. Some woman in nice office clothing would be talking to a large group of other students, and Tara and I would sneak in. And then the whole group, and the austere tour-giver-lady would glare at us, and my sister would just beam brilliantly and everyone will fall under her spell... as I stood by awkwardly, the shadow to her radiance.
"Kara?" my father repeated for what was probably the 5th time. In my defense, what parents in their right minds named one child Tara and the other Kara? Especially if they were twins? That's right. None. Which is why I've long since reached the conclusion that my parents were both certifiably insane when they named us.
"Call me Lynn," I've said countless times to him, but Dad doesn't get it.
"Lynn?" he'd ask quizzically, "But Karalynn, Kara is so much more feminine."
As if I wanted to be more feminine, I always thought with a mental eyeroll. Because everyone had always wanted me to be more Tara and less Kara, even my own father.
Which is why it would have been such a relief to go to Asher High, it could have been a release, and escape from the constant barrage of people expecting me to be like her, but of course, Tara and I had to be a package. And of course, Tara had also applied and had also been accepted because, for all our differences, she and I at least shared the ability to soak up information like sponges. Except she loved history and art and literature, but I preferred science and math. So much for having the same brain.
But Asher wouldn't be an escape now, because she's there. And people always, always expect me to be like her. They're surprised that I'm not all pink and frilly and outgoing. And as cliche as it may sound, she's the light to my dark. We're twins, but yin and yang and worlds apart.
I must have dozed off because next thing I know, the car's clock flashed 11:00 AM, and we were parked near a large gate. I pushed open the door and began unloading the luggage.
And an austerely dressed office woman was there with a clipboard.
"And," she said to my father, "We'll be taking their bags up to their rooms, if you don't mind, security has to check them out..."
Woah there, security? Do they expect me to bring in what, like TNT or drugs or something? Well the security personnel will be disappointed, the worst they'll find in there would be chocolate. Which may or may not be contraband according to the school's policies. I mentally kicked myself for not checking the rules better.
I watched as some people, security I'd presume, came to drag off the luggage.
"Wait!" I screamed, and made a mad dash for my backpack.
At the last minute, I dived a dive worthy of the best action movies, and lunged for the tiny pocket in which my Zune and cellphone were kept.
I blindly followed the woman to what I suppose is the lecture hall.
Somewhere, through my sleep-induced haze, I lost track of Tara. I looked around. She was no where in sight.
Good. It's better if people don't meet me when I'm standing right next to her.
Plugging in my earphones and checking the time, I realized that Dad must've sped because somehow, I have no idea how, we were early and not late.
With the intention of exploring this new environment, I walked back out into the warm sunlight again. With no one in sight, I started rocking out to my music, which is by the way nothing like Tara's pop, except with the exception of maybe Jesse Mccartney.
I stumbled, off balance from the tackle and the shout that had permeated my earbuds.
Only one person dared to call me "Lynnie" or something to that effect, but to be absolutely fair, I'd probably only let him call me that. Anyone else who tries just may be discombobulated by yours truly.
I hadn't seen Matt since summer started. His parents decided that spending the summer in California would make for good last minute family bonding before they sent him away to a boarding school. It didn't make sense to me though since the school was little more than a 5 hour drive from our averagely quaint little town.
So I turned around and tackled him right back.
"OW!" he roared, almost screaming in pain.
"Dude, I did not tackle you that hard. Stop yelling, you sound like a wounded bear."
"Lynn, look at me," he grumbled after quieting, "You just tackled an injured man."
I took step back and examined my friend. He looked the same as ever.
Touseled brown hair that was shorter than before, clothes that didn't fit quite right because he just couldn't seem to stop growing taller, bright green eyes... and a tan. Well that was new, but not unexpected. It was Southern California after all.
"I don't get it."
"I already did."
"No, no, even closer," he insisted, and leaned down so I can properly inspect his face.
I tip-toed until our noses were only mere centimeters away. The skin on one cheek was peeling. I smothered a laugh, and said in the most serious of voices, "You got sunburned? Golly Matt, this is horrible. How will you ever recover? Wait," I said with exaggerated horror, "You will recover, right? Matt, please tell me you'll recover!"
He looked at me through wounded eyes, "I don't know, Karalynn, I may not ever fully be the man I once was..."
"It's ok," dramatically, I grasped his hand, "We'll get through this."
We made the mistake of looking into each other's eyes. I cracked up first.
Between fits of giggles and wheezing, he managed to choke out the events of his summer.
I grinned, it was good to be with Matt after what seemed like years without him.
After finally recovering, he looked around.
"Hey, is Tara here?"
I grimaced. Matt had always had a thing for her, even when we were kids. And according to Tara, Matt's "hot," though I never did understand the appeal. So, I can't stand being around just the two of them for more than a couple of minutes. A girl can only take so much of being the third wheel.
"Yeah, but I'm not sure where," I answered honestly.
I check the time again.
"Woah," Matt said, looking over my shoulder, "We better get going, huh?"
He slung his arm over my shoulder, and we walked into the lecture hall together. I plopped down in an aisle seat toward the middle. Not too close to the front, not too much to the back, and easy escape if there ever was a fire. Not that it was likely, but it was good to take precautions, right?
I guess Matt caught sight of Tara, because he made a beeline for seat in the front of the auditorium. Shrugging, I figure it was better if I didn't follow him. I'd probably need a machete to even make a dent in their raging hormones. God, why don't they just get together already?
I turned to face the person who so rudely interrupted my thoughts. He had taken the seat next to me.
"Hey to you too," I replied, unsure of what to say.
In the dimming light of the lecture hall, I can barely make out his face.
"You new?" he grinned knowingly.
I nod in reply, not wanting to be the person talking when the principal decided to speak.
"I'm Luke," he held out his hand.
I stared at it for a moment before taking it, "I'm Karalynn, but I go by Lynn."
He laughed, "That's cool! Karalynn is a bit of an odd name anyways," he stopped. "No offense, of course," he added hastily.
"No problem, I kind of have to agree. Dunno what my parents were thinking..." I stopped myself from babbling. Awkward girl makes awkward conversation, and I did not want to be an awkward girl.
He was cut short by microphone feedback, but plowed onward.
"Why did you-"
He surprised me there. He was the first person since my interview for Asher to ask this.
"Nice campus, seems like a good all-around place..." I mumbled.
"Yeah? Want a tour of this school?"
"I'm at this orientation thing aren't I?"
"Yeah, you know that it's really all for show and it ain't really mandatory right?"
I leaned away from him a little, aware of our close proximity.
"What do you have in mind?"
"Well Karalynn-I-prefer-Lynn," he stretched slightly, "How about a real tour? Not one of those, 'And this is the library' tours. I can show you around."
I hesitated. On one hand, the administrators may address important information, but on the other hand, Luke had a good point; these tours were incredibly boring.
The scream of the microphone made my mind for me.
"Sounds good," I replied.
He grabbed my hand and we ducked between the barely open double doors.
Outside, the light stung my eyes slightly. The small courtyard was green and grassy. Benches were scattered, presumably for student enjoyment. A large tree in the center cast shade on the lawn, and instinctively, I headed toward the shade.
Ah, relief for my eyes.
"We'll head back around 2 o'clock," Luke was saying, "so you can assimilate with the group and get your room number and schedule and such."
A sudden though struck my mind, "Hey, is chocolate contraband here?" I asked, not daring to look up for fear that the sun would burn my eyes.
He grinned, "Depends on your RC. Resident counselor, you know? Technically you're not allowed to have food in the room, but hey, it's not like anyone really cares. Why ask?"
"Cuz," I grumbled, picturing whoever was checking my bags munching away on my goodies.
Finally my eyes adjusted to the light and I looked up at Luke.
If I had to describe his appearance in one word, it would be "puppy." His dark brown hair was incredibly messy, and looked incredibly soft. Locks of hair fell over his face, and others stood out in random directions. I had to resist the strong urge to pet him.
He had a lean build, wide shoulders, and a bit of a tan, so I pegged him for an athlete.
"So, what sport do you play?" I asked as he lead me to a cluster of classrooms.
"Why do you assume that I play a sport?"
He laughed, "Oh I do. But I want to know what gave you that impression."
"Your dense, muscled headed behavior gave it away," I said with a straight face.
He frowned slightly, evidently worried, "You think I...?"
I winced. Did I take it too far?
"No, no! Not at all. It's just that you have that vibe, you know?" I quickly reassured him.
His brown eyes lit up again, "Oh. OK. I do a little of everything really, but I'm definitely more of a track kid."
We lapsed into a silence as he walked me around the giant campus. He showed me the different dorms, the cafeteria, the sport fields, the three(three!) libraries... We finally came to a stop at a fountain.
"This," he made a grand gesture, "is the Asher wishing fountain. Go on, make a wish."
I snorted. Wishes made in wishing fountains, in my opinion, weren't ever going to come true.
I looked back at Luke. He seemed so friendly and open, in a way that should have been by far too innocent for a sixteen-year-old boy. And I realized that I didn't want to let him down.
I pull out a quarter from my pocket and closed my eyes.
Please, please, please, I begged quietly, please let me be just Lynn, not Tara's sister, and flipped the coin into the fountain.
I stepped back and examined the fountain. What seemed like thousands of silvery coins glittered from it. A thousand dreams and wishes.
He patted me on the back.
"Congratulations, Lynn," he smiled happily, "You are now officially part of the Asher student body."
He grinned down at me. I guess he saw my confusion because he winked, "It's kind of a ritual you gotta go through. Most of our wishes will come true," he added with conviction.
"How can you be sure?" I whispered my doubt quietly.
He looked at me hard for a long moment, "Because this place is different. It's just us, the students, so we're gonna be family, Lynn, and we will all help each other make these dreams come true. For sure."
I gazed off into the distance, at some bird. Luke sounded like a brochure for this school, but part of what he said got to me.
"So," he said after a while, "You ready to take this school by storm?"
He held his hand out to me, ready to lead me back to the pack of other students. As I took his hand, I laughed, knowing that I would never take anything by storm.
"Hey," I smiled, his happiness was infectious as hell, "I was born ready."
"Locked and loaded, baby," his eyes glittered.
"Locked and loaded," I repeated, grinning.