The Life Of An Un-Social Flotsam
"I'm leaving," I breathed, pulling my suitcase to my chest. Or, rather, the brace tightened over my chest to hide the boobs I'd lacked in the first place. "I'm really leaving." Granted, I'd rather have left the country to attend Darwin as a girl, but this was second-best. Well, third. Gallagher was number one, but I'd shown too much interest in it to even consider attending. How ironic that I end up at their rival school.
I spun around to face Nate, smirking in the most loving way possible. He scrunched his face up. "You kids don't really focus on the details, do you?"
"Gotta look at the bright side," I sighed, a huge grin on my face. I was going to England! About to attend one of the rich, elitist schools! "And let me tell you," I said, "this bright side, is friggen perfect."
Nate grimaced. "Language," he chided.
"Fine," I snapped. "This bright side is fucking perfect."
"Better." He nodded in approval and sighed deeply. "Do I need to run you through your identity again?"
That dampened my mood by a fraction. "Calvin Lee Poole; Seattle, Washington, illegitimate son of some hoity-toity politician, eighteen years old, senior year of high school when I was transferred here, to Darwin's, my mom is dead in a car crash, no siblings, and have an extreme case of Agoraphobia," I bleated like a sheep. "Did I miss anything?"
Nate shook his head, sighing again. "Whenever I call you, I'll—"
I cut him off, "—never use my real name and I'll get monthly situational updates, as well as new contact information through the agent placed here. I know, Nate, okay? I know. Will you tell me who the agent is?"
He scratched at his stubble. "He'll meet you at the airport," Nate murmured, clearly unfocused. "Student Services has all your class and dorming information. Go there first."
I nodded, a wave of reality hitting me in the face. I turned to entire the gates of Darwin, but Nate stopped me.
"Callista?" he asked, shocking me by using my real name.
I turned around, biting my lip. "Yeah, Nate?"
He gave me a sad smile. "Be careful."
A small smile donned my face. "I'll try my best."
I sighed and craned my head again, looking for my ride. Nate said he should've been here an hour before my plane landed, but I'd been waiting for three hours. Still no sign, not that I even knew what to look for. I grimaced and let my mind drift.
It was strange being in a variant form of the dream I'd had since I was fourteen. The only changed factor was the name carved into the sign outside. Still, I'd spent so much time planning on how I'd get here; I had no idea what to expect now that I was actually here. I figured paying the tuition was the biggest hurdle to leap, but I suppose I'd been too focused on the money to realize I would actually have to go to school.
Part of me was prepared to die of excitement. I mean, Darwin wasn't Gallagher, but it was damn-right close. I was less than fifty miles away and we were rivals. The only reason I'd have preferred Gallagher was its amazing art program. Don't get me wrong, attending boarding school in England nearly beat the crap out of my disappointment, but I still felt a loss for the potential. To be honest, I probably wouldn't have gotten in anyway; my grades were terrible, but I figured they'd ask for an art submission, and as long as I made it original, I'd get in.
I had been considered a senior in the New York school system—I say school system because I never actually went to one school long enough to finish a semester. Hell, I'd graduated at the beginning of summer this year, but I suppose high school was too tempting a hideout for Nate to resist, so he enrolled me. I was eighteen, but my face as a boy still looked pre-pubescent, and I was dreading how easily they would point this out to me, as if I couldn't tell.
I looked up again, but the airport was growing ever more still as the clock crept past three AM. I hadn't gotten any sleep on the plane, so the jetlag made everything worse. I waited for another half hour, and when it became apparent that I was on my own, I grabbed my lone duffel bag and stood. I groaned and debated calling Nate, but decided against it. I patted my pocket, feeling the roll of pounds that had been irritated my thigh the entire flight. Stiffly, I walked out of the airport and found an empty cab. I launched my bag into the seat, and followed it in.
"You know where Darwin Academy for Boys is?" I was just barely able to enunciate. The cabbie nodded and started the car. I tried my best not to fall asleep.
Two hours later, I was staggering out of the cab and wondering why he'd even volunteered to drive me this far at this time. As I yanked my bag out of the back, he caught my eye.
Oh. Money. Yeah.
I looked at the fare, and felt a great urge to hug Nate, who'd forced me to learn about English currency a week straight. I counted out the right amount and handed it to him, then slammed the door shut and turned to face to my new home for the next few indeterminable months.
The sky was murky, but the sun was already up, lighting up the campus considerably. I'd seen it in pictures, but they'd been swarmed with hordes of boys, and had failed to prepare me for the in-person visit. There was a massive, ornate building that reminded me of a twentieth-century mansion where a murder-mystery might take place, flanked by two, smaller yet-still-huge buildings. The middle building was four stories tall and resembled an expensive wedding cake; fancy trimmings, minute details that made the whole thing a death trap. The roof had spires and a miniature steeple for a bell. Behind the three main buildings, I could see several large dormitories, and I could tell they weren't going to be as impressive as the ones in front of me. The courtyard had a large, circular fountain in the middle, riddled with grand shrubs and pretty flowers that I'm sure went completely unappreciated by the students.
I was hit by a sudden and intense wave of excitement at the glowing campus. I walked through the huge arch that read Darwin Academy, mind ogling at what would happen next. I stopped, fully prepared for fireworks and fizzling champagne bottles, maybe even some confetti and balloons to spontaneously appear from nowhere. Possibly an audience, all screaming and roaring with joy as I proved the threshold between reality and dreams could, in fact, be broken. But there were no applauding crowds or gigantic, synchronized dances scenes with paper-mâché floats crowding around me.
I tripped and slammed into the cobble path, barely able to brace my fall with my duffel. Huffing, I got to a stand and wiped off my pre-stained jeans, aiming for what Nate had explicitly reminded me as Student Services.
"This is going be interesting," I muttered to myself.
I threw my suitcase onto one of the beds, deciding then and there the mattress would be my new end table. I could sleep on the others bed—Nate had arranged for me to dorm alone with my own bathroom, which I'd thanked God for. Not only did I need at least an hour to prepare my face for manhood, but I didn't want to freak out every morning that maybe my wig had slipped off in my sleep or my chest was visible. He'd also pulled a few strings and gotten me one of the nicer dorms. It was a nice size; "nice" meaning "same size as my old living room." Which, yeah, to be honest, wasn't big on terms of comfortable but was better suited by the words available space in New York City. Besides, Darwin wasn't Darwin because it played cheap with all the encouraging parental donations. It accommodated for insertion of personality; the dorm rules said we could paint the walls and do everything short of swinging a sledge hammer into the drywall, as well as bring in any additional furniture.
A quick glance at the fancy, matching décor made me question why anyone would bother to haul in more cra—shit. There was a bookshelf hanging on the wall, a couch with what could only be upholstered cloud for cushions, two mahogany desks, a fancy entertainment center housing one of those smaller plasmas and a DVD player, and of course two queen beds with comforters that suggested butter had been woven into fabric and bought by Darwin's excessive wealth.
It was, after all, something they'd always held over Gallagher's head. Which was another reason I was better matched for Gallagher—I didn't have money to buy buttery bed sheets, let alone bed sheets made of margarine. But I suppose it didn't matter; even though I was a charity case, nobody would know because I was apparently the son of some guy in the American Senate. Well, technically I was also the son of a high-end prostitute, but I figured I could leave that bit out.
I sighed, the elation of wealth hindered just a little by bitter memory of my family's poverty. Maybe now, just like me, they were better off. Nate would make sure they were taken care of.
Upon shoving the depression away, giddiness soon re-conquered my face. A grin nearly split my face in half and I flung all my hundred-and-thirty pounds at the buttersheets. And, just like expected, I sank into them with the grace of a prima-ballerina. The whooshing sound they made was akin to a cool breeze on a summer day. After a few minutes of insane giggling and thrashing around on top of the bed—which, judging by the lushness, had to be made of children's dreams and the souls of puppies—I got a hold of myself and went to go reexamine my face in the bathroom mirror.
Yup. Definitely a girl. How no one else noticed, I had no idea. Maybe I was just too rooted in my gender, I couldn't get over the feminine parts. My blue eyes were masked with dark brown contacts—nearly black, because the blue shown through the green and hazel ones.
Or maybe that was the wire-fed brace around my torso. It not only covered my boobs to the point of invisibility, but it also gave me a more masculine chest in general. I'd been called a beanpole more times than I could count, but that didn't change the fact that I was still a girl. The brace had thin metal wires running through it, sort of like a corset that hid my miniscule woman features instead of emphasizing them. Besides, being a beanpole wasn't bad for guys. They didn't hope for big boobs when they hit puberty; they just wanted their voice to pick a decimal and stick to it. The brace was comfortable enough, though a bit more on the insulating side, and I'm pretty sure someone could feel me up and still not notice, and if they saw the brace, I could just say I'd had back problems since childhood. For the first time in my life, I'd nodded in approval at my chest size, and moved onto intensely examine hair.
Terri, Nate's assistant, had first suggested we just chop it all off, but much to my gratitude, Nate quickly dismissed my hair as "too blonde to be accompanied with a penis" and insisted that "curly hair would only add to my already homosexual appearance." Which, considering I looked like a thirteen year old guy at best, needed no help. So, here I was, my cloud of blond hair tamed into a cap and covered in a shaggy, dark brown wig with matching fake eyebrows—my real ones were blonde and hardly corresponded. Though I had to admit, the wig was better than just cutting my real hair and not just because it'd taken me since fourth grade to get it the length it was now. It was choppy and seemed to downplay my girly face, not to mention it hid the scar and came with the "I'm Goddamn sexy because I don't give a fuck about brushing my hair" look that no woman could pull off.
Which, by the way, I still hadn't mastered. I figured it had something to do with man's strange kinship to all kinds of hair. Leg hair. Eyebrow hair. Armpit hair. I hadn't plucked or shaved a single follicle in two months, giving me a new appreciation for razors. My legs were hairy and they itched. All the time. I missed the smooth skin, which was now covered in what I liked to call the Black Forest. It was repulsive, but Nate insisted that as long as I acted like I was motherfucking sexy, people would think I was motherfucking sexy. I trusted his recent-college-grad knowledge, but not without a few quivering intestinal sensations.
It seemed to convince everyone around me, anyhow. None of the office attendants had said anything, or maybe that was just because it was five AM and they were all dead. Though I did have the feeling one had checked me out, which I wasn't sure was something I should feel flattered about or not. I'm sure the feeling of disturbed was felt by both of us when I literally freaked out so badly my eyes crossed and I grunted in a way akin to an asexual moose. Her computer had suddenly become the most intriguing object thing in existence until I'd received my school materials.
School materials! I remembered in the middle of practicing my smolder. I quickly pounced on the large envelope sitting on the spare bed and ripped it open with the most manly amount of not caring. I deftly skimmed through the papers, in search of the only important one.
Greetings, and congratulations on making it to Darwin's School for Boys—blah, blah, all formalities and graceful evasion of the fact that most students were bribed into the class roster. Besides, I'd already laminated my real acceptable letter. I crumpled the paper and threw it to my side.
Following rules here at Darwin—I threw that one away too, already having the regulations beat into my head by Nate. After another few seconds, I finally found my schedule hidden behind a brochure of how to deal with bullies. I tossed the rest of the papers on my bed to be examined later.
I shouldn't have been so excited about what was on my schedule; I'd picked the classes two months ago, for God's sake. Still, I laid down on my bed and kicked my legs excitedly in the air as I read my studies.
My days as a man would play out like so: Algebra II—a freshman course, much to my shame—Intermediate Figure Drawing, Western Civ I, Sociology, Lunch, Chemistry—I tried not to physically gag—, English Literature and Composition, and Intermediate Shading and Tones. They were each an hour long and I started laughing at how incredibly pathetic my intelligence was. The only core class that had other seniors was English, and I doubted art would be swarming with students. It wasn't like I didn't try; I really did. I always finished my homework and studied, but to no avail. I was just one of those perpetually less-than-average people, doomed to a life of lacking intelligence. I could never focus in class, always spacing off and doodling in the margins of my paper. Maybe it would be different here. I didn't have five siblings yanking on my shirt hems and pleading for a granola bar, wailing to go to the park, and there was plenty of spare time to empty my creative self of all imagination long-enough to concentrate.
Yeah, I thought happily, it'll be different here.
I'd have to get up at about five to be ready in time for breakfast, but this wasn't too bad. I'd always gotten up early to make my siblings breakfast, anyhow.
My schedule was anything but "challenging," which is something I'm sure they encouraged here. I was lucky to graduate high school in the first place, and probably only then because the teachers pitied me and the other kids ostracized me. Being shoveled from foster home to foster home when you were a kid kind of gave you a kind of aversion to education and didn't exactly give you time to make best buddies. I'd tried before, when I was in ninth grade, and let me tell you—I wasn't made for human interaction with people under the age of thirty. My family was one thing; you couldn't be awkward with people you'd spent three years wiping spaghetti off of.
As a cause from never having friends, I was perpetually silent, and this seemed to make people think I was brilliant. Teachers always gave you that disappointed sigh when you failed a test, like the result could've differed from the past four just because you looked responsible. The only time people wanted to talk to me was when they needed answers, which I wasn't exactly overflowing with. I doubted anyone under the age of twenty in school knew my name. My official name there switched back and forth between "Heyyou" and "Thatgirlwiththehair." In fact, they had me so well trained, I responded to any sort of whispering in general.
Well, they did, until they finally realized I had about as much a clue what a covalent bond was as they did. No longer beckoned at every assignment, I stayed silent and receded to the most invisible seats in class. After a week, I was pinned as the stuck up prude and wasn't asked for an answer again. My entire senior year, I became a part of the furniture. Swear to God, last day of school, a person in every one of my classes turned around, jerked back in surprise, looked at their friend, and said, "Who the fuck is that?"
After I'd gotten home that day and thoroughly debating if I actually did exist, I decided that there were more important things than having people in high school realize I was more than an incorporeal flotsam to be treated like that of wadded up chewing on the bottom of bowling alley computers.
And now that I was back, it had rotated back to a possibility. But maybe now that I was going to a rich school, I'd be less of bowling alley gum and more like… more like the homeless people on 76th. At least they were recognized as living things. And besides, who was I to look a gift horse in the mouth? A step up was a step up.
There was nothing. Nothing at all. No, wait—rocks. I was standing on tons of little rocks. Gravel. Oh, God—no! No. I can't be. No. I'm not here. I can't be. But, oh—God—I was standing on a ledge. Below me was darkness, leading to God knows where. I didn't want to know. I didn't want to find out.
But I couldn't move.
Heat trailed up my back.
"No," I sobbed into my hands. "No, please. No."
He still came. A sharp pain through calf; he was here. He always was. I didn't know when he got here—I never did. But he was here now. Heat shot through my calf, and I knew the scar was there now. Tears cascaded down my face. Then his fingers brushed against my arm, heat burning where he touched it. My scar was there, now.
My entire chest was heaving in tears. Then came the rake across my chest, from the base of my neck, over my collar bone, to the opposing arm. It burned and seethed, but I couldn't look at it. I just kept sobbing "Please, please, please."I felt him behind me, then his darkness enveloped my face, brushing away the hair. His long finger stroked the side of my face, and my skin was blazing with heat.
My skin continued to boil.
His hand brushed my back.
And he shoved me. I was falling into the blackness, accompanied by a handful of pebbles that had been knocked off by my feet. I kept falling—falling—falling—
—my entire body jerked as I hit the ground. No, not ground. A pile of gravel. Rocks were falling around me, drowning me. I opened my mouth to yell, struggling to swim around the sea of pebbles. I looked up, seeing him standing on the edge, laughing.
I was covered in blood. Rocks were sticking to the blood gushing from my cuts. I was still sinking—I couldn't breathe—couldn't breathe—couldn't—breathe—
My face hit something cold and hard. My eyes opened to take in the unfamiliar wooden flooring that smelled like rubber and dirt. I sat up slowly, then felt the weight of twenty pairs of eyes on me. I blinked and suddenly recalled I was in class. I was in class and on the floor. A teacher was standing right about me with an arched eyebrow. His silver hair was pulled back into a pony-tail behind his head. Even with the distinct appearance, I had trouble remembering where I was.
"Sorry," I muttered, quickly leaping back into my seat. "For a moment there, you bored me to death." Oh God, did I just say that aloud? To my possibly drawing teacher—I looked around me, and it was evident this was no art class. I'd just sassed my something teacher who was incredibly unamused and who I couldn't bribe with a mutual love of still lives.
"Don't worry, though" I continued, "I'm all good now. Your voluptuous mane of well-conditioned hair brought me back to life." Callista! Stop! Speaking! You insufferable dumbass! But to my surprise, the class snickered, which made me question if I was truly awake. I subtly bit my tongue, and it hurt.
God… I was awake? And people laughed at something I said?
"Mr. Poole," the man drawled, but his tone wasn't nearly as harsh as it should've been, "I will not tolerate sleeping in my class." He paused, then tagged on, "Or sex noises, no matter how involuntary."
The class snickered again. My face flushed red. Sex noises. Right.
I rubbed out my eyes, the contacts irritating my freshly wakened eyes. "Sorry, sir," I said, fully awake now and wondering why I'd been so snappy before. "Jetlag. I'll be sure to catch up on my imperative beauty rest in Patel's class from now on." I gave him a quick nod and affirmative smile, pleased I could at least recall my drawing teacher's name.
"Damn right you will," he snapped, nodding at me vigorously. "But until then, might you tell me what year the Titanic sank?"