"'Tory, 'tory, 'tory!" Cheering as gentle hands set the thick comforter around her waist, the rosy-cheeked child tilted her head to meet her mother's gaze. "Please mommy?"
"Of course, Addy," her mother said, watching her daughter's excitement with pure fondness. Opening the old storybook with a light touch, leather creaked as it's worn, yellowed, pages were exposed to the light. She settled back against the bed's headboard. "Now. Where were we?...
"'... Then the enchantress allowed her anger to be softened, and said to him, "If the case be as you say, I will allow you to take away with you as much rampion as you will, only I make one condition, you must give me the child which your wife will bring into the world. It shall be well treated, and I will care for it like a mother."
The man in his terror consented to everything, and when the woman was brought to bed, the enchantress appeared at once, gave the child the name of Rapunzel, and took it away with her.
Rapunzel grew into the most beautiful child under the sun. When she was twelve years old, the enchantress shut her into a tower, which lay in a forest, and had neither stairs nor door, but quite at the top was a little window. When the enchantress wanted to go in, she placed herself beneath it and cried-"
Beaming, Addy broke in, repeating the words she knew by heart. "'Punzel, 'punzel, le' down you 'air!"
"Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair." Smoothing back Addy's curls from her face, her mother's voice turned soft. "And do you know what Rapunzel did as she watched the witch climb up the side of the tower?"
When Addy shook her head, expression filled with quiet curiosity, she continued on, words echoing like the ringing of fairy bells. "Rapunzel wished for a prince charming to come save her."
Bells were ringing, sweet and clear in the afternoon spring air as Addy watched the pieces of paper being torn in two, the unfolding scene splintering as did the lines of color and light. They floated down to the dirt on the tail of a warm breeze.
"Only losers and babies color with their fingers, duh. Big kids play on the slides."
The words were nothing, a mere blip in the background. A single wrong note within an orchestra's symphony. But in reality, they were everything. They were the dancer's miscount of steps during a ballroom dance. A manuscript's misspelled word. A tiny error in the fabric of time with the ability to send a train off its rails and into a blinding crash of momentous destruction.
Loser, loser, loser, loser, loser, loser.
Rising like a swirling melody, the words reached their peak. Climaxing before fading away, dropping down to a low simmering heat in the back of her mind. The cold sting of tears bit at the corners of her eyes, sending spiraling waves of quiet through her mind.
Minutes, hours, days passed and a small touch to her elbow grounded her, dragged Addy back from the depths of the ocean she drowned in. "I'll be your friend." Dark green reflected back at her, a dangerous yet pleasing smile tugged at something deep within. "I'll be your friend. They're the losers. You're different, like me. We'll be bestest friends forever and ever and ever."
The dirt mixed with the paint on the ground at their feet, turning the brilliant hues of light and rainbow to dark shadows of themselves. Watching the other girl, Addy nodded. The girl clapped happily, her smile lifting. "I'm Mara."
"I'm Addy." Addy smiled shyly back; the ripped shreds of her confidence stayed buried deep in the mud. Cold, unseen, and forgotten.
The cold linoleum bit into her forearms, sweater itching and food bland on her tongue. It was all a monotone repetition, one day after the next. All a repeating cycle of yes, no. Yes, no. All a repeating cycle of… nothing. Nothing.
Her fork poked a hole in the white Styrofoam tray. Not entirely feeling, not entirely caring or needing. Not at all wanting.
There was a difference, she thought, between living and existing.
Living day to day was to feel, to wish, to dream, to see the world as a cradle of jewels in a crow's nest. A sky made of brilliant sapphires; meadows made of emeralds.
Mara shifted, stabbing a piece of lettuce, flipping her golden hair to the side. "I can't believe you failed the quiz, Ads. It wasn't that hard. Even Jackson managed to get a B."
Existing was to count your breaths. To put one foot in front of the other only because it was necessary, not because it was needed. To see the world in muted shades of black and white and gray with a sense of numbness that never faded, only grew.
"A D is just pathetic. Come on. I never thought you'd be one of those idiots who needs to take extra credit just to raise their grades. Jesus."
A haze had settled around Addy, draining away her energy, leaving her weary and weak. Easy prey, easy picking. It took a moment for the sound of footsteps to register, the heavy sound of books hitting the side of the table and shuffling as someone dropped down into one of the empty seats.
"Don't look at her Ads, I swear to-"
"You're Addy Harris, right?"
A friendly smile and warm brown eyes greeted Addy as she raised her head, glancing fearfully at Mara. "Yeah, I- I'm Addy."
"We have, you know, Chem together." The newcomer rubbed the back of her neck. Addy caught herself following the motion of the girl's hand, up the smooth column of her throat to her jaw. And heat burned in her cheeks as Mara whispered: 'slut,' in her ear. "You dropped your pen on the way out of class. Here."
The plastic pink stood out in sharp contrast against the dull fog of gray slate that had positioned itself over Addy, tugging at some deep, lost spark within. A fire that needed to feed, that yearned to grow itself into a blazing and all-consuming inferno. She flinched at the thought, the prospect of life as a whirlwind of color, as she closed her fingers around the pen. "Thank you."
The other girl was watching her, eyes dancing with curiosity and something else, something deeper and lighter. "I'm Eileen, by the way."
"Boring," Mara rolled her eyes, stealing food off of Addy's untouched tray. "What a bunch of lovesick losers."
Addy was the first to look away. Tremors thrilled down her spine at Mara's cold touch to her elbow, turning her away from Eileen's warmth and back down into the icy well of nothingness.
"You're not seriously going to wear that are you? You look like a unicorn had sex with a peacock and they had the utter misfortune of giving birth to," Mara gestured towards her friend with a flourish. "You."
Addy tugged at the edge of her dress, eyes downcast and quiet. The necklace that rested around her collarbone threatened to turn into a vice, a noose choking her with the promise to take her away from the weight that crushed her underfoot. "I think I look nice."
Forest green eyes widened with mock surprise, lips pulling back into a cruel smile. "You look like crap. No, you like a Crayola factory puked on you. Seriously, Addy, grow up, this isn't preschool anymore." Mara inspected a flaw in her manicure and shook her head. "I don't care what you think. Matt can tell you a dozen and one times that he 'likes' you, but that doesn't mean shit if you look like some Disney Channel reject."
Shame flushed her cheeks as the noose closed tighter around her neck. "But he-"
"If you want but, I can leave. All I'm trying to do is help you, okay? As pathetic and worthless as you are, you deserve at least half decent sex before we graduate. Can't have a virgin ass like you following me around."
Cold clawed its way into Addy's bloodstream, turning her veins to glittering strands of ice. A notification lit up her phone like a guardian angel sent down from the heavens above; drawing Addy out of the gloom like a lighthouse leading ships to safety on dark nights. The faintest sparks of warmth long dulled to cooling embers burned their way to life.
Saw these when I was out earlier and thought of you.
Attached to the message was an image of a deluxe package of pens.
"Stop tapping for ever-loving fuck. Everyone's watching," Mara hissed, slapping the back of Addy's wrist, the pen ceasing it's tapping against the wooden desk instantly. "I swear to god, you're so annoying."
Addy's eyes dropped back to her paper silently. Black marks of ink fading in and out of focus as her concentration on the lecture ebbed and flowed. She shook her head, the lights pricking and twisting around her. "Stop. Please."
"Stop what?" Producing a small bottle of nail polish, Mara propped her feet up on the desk. Not a soul commented, the professor oblivious and droned on as she applied the brightly colored lacquer. "I'm not doing any-"
Someone, something tapped Addy's shoulder, pulling her back from the edge in a blinding tug of fate, drawing her out of the rapidly cooling ice that had begun to form around her wrists. The folded slip of paper fell, tumbling down and dropped into her lap; a stone crashing into the surface of a lake, sending out ripples over the clear glass.
She glanced back, playful brown eyes met her with Eileen's bright smile, enough to light up a thousand universes with its light. Warmth settled deep in her bones, melting away the icy band that threatened to snap and cleave her in two. A hush fell over her as her fingers smoothed out the creases in the folded page. Mara said something, but the words fell away as if she was shouting from a distance, the opposite side of a ravine, the wind whipping them away.
Gina's brother's setting up a firework show in the empty field right behind the old Smith farm tonight. A group of us are going.
It'll be fun.
Pick you up at six-thirty?
Pink ink glistened up at her, and her eyes widened at the invitation. Mara was silenced. And Addy stared down at the note. The heat of the room becoming stifling, the walls closing in, trapping her in a paralyzing cage. With trembling hands, she uncapped the pen, the black letters warring against the pink. Light and darkness colliding and exploding into starbursts of color behind her eyes.
She raised her eyes, fearfully searching the room for Mara. But she was gone. Had vanished between one blink and the next, fading away as a ray of sunlight broke through the window. Addy could feel her lurking, eyes peering out from the darkness, waiting for the right moment to attack.
But Addy wouldn't give her a chance.
She was wanted.
Three letters formed their way onto the page below the curved signature in scrawling writing.
Once upon a time, in a kingdom far away, there lived a princess stuck high up in a tower fair. Trapped there by a witch, she stood by the window and watched the years pass in fearful isolation. In that same kingdom lived a small-town thief, who rescued a princess from her tower and showed her that there was still light in the world.