Shift by Pili Yarusi – Chapter 6 CLEAN

Chapter 6

This needs to stop.

I wake up feeling lighter. Still foggy, but lighter. I slide the off button on my phone alarm. Something sparkles in the corner of my eye. I look over to the mess of broken mirror still scattered on my carpet. The morning sun has turned my room into kaleidoscope of light.

Crap. This needs to stop. I need to let go. Will I really? Well, I have to try. I’m this scary warped version of myself. Like this mirror, I am broken. Now, I can just wallow in self-pity or I can get my butt in gear and not wait for my Aunt to call Dr. Hart, or worse, a psychologist. Total cringe. No more psychologists.

I hear Aunt Mel leave, I pull my tear soaked sheets off my bed and start my day doing laundry. I will wash, rinse and spin Nicolas out of my life. While in the basement I find an empty crate and some garbage bags. Everything in my room that reminds me of Nicolas gets thrown into one of these. The broken shards of mirror, pictures, clothes even my new phone … well, maybe not the phone. I go to my music app and find a fun reggae beat. I’m seriously testing myself. I’d been listening to nothing but crazed and jumbled metal the last few weeks … the only music to numb one’s brain to. The bouncy beat throws more logs onto the fire. This fire is eating the misery out of my heart. Don’t get me wrong … the pain is still there, fresh and ready to move back in. I would swallow it. I can’t help the nightmares when they creep up on my unconscious self, but it didn’t mean I’d live in one.

It feels good to rip the posters off my walls. There were posters of bands from concerts Nicolas and I had gone to, posters of places we’d said we go to. All of it comes down and goes straight into the garbage bags. I clean out my closet … an amazing feat that takes the better half of the afternoon. Boxes of old school stuff, thrown away. Old journals and letters from Nicolas … into the crate, my Nicolas Box. I place the Nicolas Box neatly in the back of my closet, behind a larger box that contains a large amount of stuffed animals that I don’t have the heart to give away. I open the Stuffed Animal Box. Quite a few there were from Nicolas… I squash the memories that wanted to crash into my mind. There was an old yellow tail poking out. I dig it out. It was a stuffed lion that Mel had given to me ages ago. I smile and throw it on my bed.

That reminds me of another gift … one that I had given. My grandfather would want me to get it back now that it was no longer safe. How was I going to get the necklace back? Crap. I would deal with that later.

I close up the boxes and grab the three garbage bags filled with junk and bounce down the stairs. Grab my bedding and bounce back up the stairs. I fix my bed and look around. My room looks sterile. Everything wiped down and straightened. Nothing out of place. Good. Clean. Way too purple though. Lavender walls, purple blinds… I would have to do something about that soon. This was a good start.

Next!

I grab my school books. The music changes as I walked back down the stairs. The crooning voice of a very popular male singer dominates the air in the building. I remember having a serious crush on him a few years ago but it was fleeting because I couldn’t stand his music. I grab the wrought iron railing of the staircase in effort to fight the urge to tear back into my room and change it. I close my eyes and let the under lying beats move through me. I let the rhythm take over. I open my eyes. Once you look past the whining lyrics, the music was decent.

I dump my bag in front of my study couch. The sun was low in the sky but I was sure I could finish most of my school work before it went down. The work was mundane … easy. A five-page short story based on an Austen quote of my choice, due tomorrow. I’d already finished that last week. But, I had a half hour to give it another read-through and edit. Three pages of calculus. Boring. This school was supposed to be the best but I didn’t give me any challenge. I finish within the hour. I stretch for a moment before deciding on my next project. I grab my computer. I was half finished with the huge workbook the Science professor had given us at the beginning of school. I knew if I finished that now I’d regret it later. It was easily my favorite subject and the workbook was interesting but tedious work, some animal anatomy and some quantum physics. I really wanted to get to the quantum physics part. But, I would need this time-killing work for days that I wasn’t so in control.

Control. Yes, I need to stay in control.

There was nothing in my bag that I could work on. I turn on the computer and stare at the bookcases in the study. I would tackle those tomorrow after school. I hated to give books away but the shelves were getting crowded. They were double stocked. Maybe I’d ask Mel to redo the shelving units, build them into the walls or something.

The computer boots up. I could just finish the semester group project paperwork.

***

I hear the tinkling of familiar keys, Mel’s keys. Ouch. I turn my head towards the sound a wee too fast and am paid with a crick in my neck. Ugh. Great. I’d fallen asleep on the couch while reading. My mood brightens a tinge. I fell asleep and there had been no nightmares. I tried to remember if I’d even dreamt. Shoot, I could barely remember flopping down on the couch. There was nothing. I smile. This ‘letting go’ stuff was working.

More jingling of house keys. Mel knew I was in the study and was giving me a chance to avoid her by running up to my room. I swallow. I would have to face my Aunt eventually. There is a small knock on the study door. Sooner then.

“Come in.” My voice is calmer than I’d expected.

“Hey there, Kitten.” Mel leans against the door, kicking her black work boots to the side. She looks small there, in the doorway, tired in her wrinkled clothing. She was the strict veterinarian during the week but on the weekends she loved to volunteer at clinics around the city.

“Hey Mel.” I look down, uncomfortable. “I must have dozed off… I didn’t have a chance to start dinner.” I didn’t know how to broach the subject of my blow up yesterday.

“That’s okay honey.” She sits on the couch, a cushion away. “I picked up some pizza from Ralphʻs. He says, ‘Hi,’ by the way.” She fiddled with the edge of her flannel.

I sigh, “I’m really sorry about the way I’ve been acting.”

“Honey, I know this year has been really rough for you. You are being so strong. You have always been strong. Taking care of everything here at home. Being an amazing student and an even better niece. Sometimes I don’t think I do enough for you…”

“Mel… I…”

“No, let me finish. I talked with your grandparents today. They’re worried about you. They have things they need to share with you. They could take care of you better than I am. I am doing my very best but I see you and the struggle you go through everyday. I am not doing enough. I just thought keeping you here would be best for you. It’s not. I love you, Kitten … but,” she hesitates, looking as if she were fighting the urge to cry, “if it is too hard for you here … you can move in with your grandparents.”

What?

“Move? To Hawai’i? Aunty Mel…”

She interrupted, “I’ve already talked it over with them. Hawai’i is a lot more… relaxed. It’ll be easier for you to adjust. They can get you into one of the finest schools and you’d be able to make new friends there.”

The emphasis on ‘new friends’ didn’t escape me. “Aunty Mel.” I scoot over to her and grab her hand. She was shaking. “Mel, I don’t want to live in Hawaii. I am not running again.”

Mel smiles through her tears. “I’ll leave the option open for you.”

I hug her. My mom ran from her problems and look where it got her. I wasn’t going to be like her.

***

My chair squeaks as I settle in for Sciences. Rich whips his head to face me. So much for trying to stay unnoticed.

“Woah! Darlin’ you look like crap!” Rich snickers. The two freshman boys at the table laugh along with him.

My face reddens. “You smell like crap, Rich, and I have to sit next to you but you don’t hear me complain.” I whisper in a cracked voice. I was just loud enough for the rest of my table to hear.

Silence. I look up and into the five stunned faces of my table-mates. To tell the truth, I’m pretty stunned myself.

Rich recovers, “Wow, so you do talk. Here I was thinking you’d gone mute.”

The curly blond across the table bursts out with a tinkling laughter. “You do smell, Rich. Too much cologne.”

He sniffs his shirt, “Aw blondie, why didn’t you say so!” He scoots his seat a small ways away from the table and leans back. It doesn’t help.

The blond reaches her hand around Rich. “Hi, I’m Jennifer.” I shake it. “You can call me Jen.”

“Hi.” I don’t know what else to say.

“So, ‘Miss I am Finally Going to Speak’ now that we have the honor of hearing your voice again … you going to help us with the project?”

What an ass! It takes all my strength not to knock his chair over. It would be so easy that he wouldn’t know that I had done it. Just a simple leg swipe under the back legs of the chair and he’d be on his butt.

Instead I take out a stack of papers. The benefit of having no friends was that I had a lot of time. I give a copy to each of my table-mates. I fling it a little too hard at the two freshmen to the right of me. They were engrossed in some video game on their tablet. Their eyes widened in surprise. Jen laughs and Rich’s breath come out with a whistle. They both flip through the pages at an amazing speed.

I’d just handed them this quarter’s full project mock up. All thirty pages. This was just a fraction of the work I had completed over the weekend. All we needed to do was the labs and add pictures and charts. I already completed each lab in my head or with my grandfather … but our grade was partially based on practical application done in the presence of our professor. I couldn’t stand the practical part. Dissection … cutting into the flesh of a poor little animal. My vision blurs at the thought.

One of the freshman boys perks up, “Wow,” he bleats a little too loudly, “you finished the entire thing for us!!!”

“What’s this?” Professor Stiller grabs my mock up from the boy. Crap. Think Julia … think!

“Sir, it’s our completed paperwork.” I stammer. I didn’t know what else to say. I’d always been a horrible liar.

“Am I to assume, from what Mr. Patel here has shouted out, that you have completed this on your own, without the help of your lab partners?” His bright grey eyes scan me over black framed reading glasses.

Instead of answering I look at him in surprise. “Weren’t your eyes green before?”

Mr. Stiller cocks his brow. “Very perspective of you, Miss Lyons.” He raises his glasses back up his nose. “You are not the only special person in this school.”

An uncomfortable silence descends on our table. “Um, right. Sorry.”

“So. Did you finish this by yourself?”

“Ah … no … I, um WE decided to finish it first…”

“Miss Christiansen, is this correct?”

Jen looks up, her bouncy curls frame her innocent face, “Yes sir.” She glances at Rich for a moment. He was just about to finish reading the last page. Wow, I thought to myself, for an ass he was a fast reader.

Jen continues with a bright smile and a slight blush, “To tell you the absolute truth, Julia came up with the idea to get the paperwork out of the way … so we divided it all up. Julia took the entire second half, she just understood it more and Rich and I divided the first between ourselves.” She smiles persuasively.

Mr. Stiller is not impressed. He opens my mock up. “Mr. Brown, please explain…”

“Um sir… I’m sorry but Jen did that part. The second part though … says …”

I look up, stunned. Rich had just recited half of page twenty-four on the ventricle system of the American eagle. Verbatim.

“And Miss…” Mr. Stiller looks at Jen, but she already begins to recite the beginning of the mock up.

I try to hide my surprise. Just like me, they both had photographic memories.

“Nice work you three … what about you two?” The Professor stares at the freshmen at the table.

I should have let them rot in their own stupidity but I feel bad. I have a flash of inspiration. “Uh sir … Max and Leo haven’t finished their part yet. I figured that since they’re both geniuses at computer animation that they could animate a few mock experiments for the students, like me, that don’t want to do the actual experiment.”

The boys nod furiously in agreement.

“Well, that will be nice. I’ll expect story boards from both of you by tomorrow.” Professor Stiller walks away.

Max and Leo look at me in utter amazement. They obviously hadn’t expected anyone, let alone me to come to their rescue. I laugh. “Trust me, don’t thank me yet. I just hope you’re both as good at animation as I think you are.”

They smile sheepishly and resume their video game.

I turn to my other lab partners. Rich has a smug smile on his face. Jen is just sort of staring at me.

Rich snickers, “I knew you’d come around sometime. Nice work … I think you did this better than even I could have…” The bell rings. Rich flashes me another smile and saunters out of the class.

Jen clears her throat, “I’ve been trying to get the nerve to tell him that his cologne was too strong for weeks,” she winks as she cruises out the door, “I think the rest of the class is in your debt.”

I let a little smile bloom on my face. The bloom is interrupted by a serpentine laugh from the back of the room. Laurie. My smile turns into a jaw-clenching grimace. I hide my face so I don’t chance seeing Nicolas. I slide my book and the mock up back into my bag. I take my time. I wait for the jeering slithering noises to flow out of the room.

I don’t know if I can continue this charade. The momentary camaraderie I felt with my lab partners was fleeting. It wasn’t enough to keep the darkness at bay. I clutch my bag, not bothering to throw it on my back and stumble toward the door.

“What do you think, Caleb?” I hear a bubbly voice right behind me. I jump and my bag drops. “Well, I don’t care what Laurie thinks, we can be friends with her if I say so. I SAID I don’t care! So what if Rich told Laurie about something that happened EONS ago! She looks like she needs a friend. Don’t you want to be her friend? Good! Then it’s settled.” I feel a little tap on my shoulder. I ignore it and bend down to pick my bag off the floor. Whoever this strange girl is, she’s having a conversation with herself and I didn’t want to be her friend if she had anything to do with Laurie.

The tapping on my shoulder persists. Why are people bothering me now? I stay low and I don’t talk with anyone. It was like no one in this school was allowed to be near me anyway. I finally think of something crass and witty to throw into this girls’ face.

I turn around, that something witty that was on the tip of my tongue evaporates. I see two pairs of startlingly grey eyes staring up at me each framed by a thick expanse of black lashes. Their irises were a startlingly bright gray. One set was expectant and bright, the other drawn and cautious. They were both about five inches shorter than me. I had to look down because she was standing only a foot away, her brother peeking wearily over her shoulder.

They were clearly twins but, style-wise, they looked nothing alike. Their beautiful facial features were all the same, same smooth pale skin and round cheeks, even the same body type. Both were petite and Asian. I guessed Chinese because of the almost unnoticeable accent that colored the girls’ speech. The boy had a pair of squarish black rimmed glasses on. The glasses could not hide his enormous grey eyes. I felt lost in the storm of his eyes. His uniform was immaculately pressed, like it was straight out of the dry cleaners. He was almost too perfect, at least for a boy.

I cringe. My small experience with boys was not a good one. I could not let my mind wander in that direction.

I stare at the boy a second longer. The only thing out of place was his shiny black hair which clung to his skull like an upside down bowl. There was a slash of white hair, a good inch in diameter. I’d never seen that before.

His sister, who was tapping her foot impatiently, as if I had yet to answer some unheard question she had posed, had the same slash in her hair. Except that she had dyed it a bright shade of magenta. Everything about this girl was bright and bubbly. She looked like she was straight out of a Sailor Moon cartoon. Her uniform was in complete disarray. She missed a button at the top of her blouse and her tie was tied in a regular square knot high on her neck. Her thick black hair was pulled up to two cute pig tails, one a little higher than the other. The bands had fluffy pink balls attached to them. Her bangs were cut straight across her forehead right above her eyebrows which were arched expectantly.

“Um … hello.” I sputter.

“Hi!!! Oh thank goodness! I thought I saw you finally talking today! But I really couldn’t be sure with all the noise Laurie makes at our table. I would have much rather had you as a partner than her!” Her face broke into a surprised grin. She practically danced with surprise, as if she wasn’t sure I could speak.

“Can I help you with anything?” As if I could help anyone, I could barely help myself.

“Yes, please. My brother and I were wondering if you’d like to be our friend.” I didn’t know such a little mouth could grin so wide. It was infectious. I found myself cracking an unsure smile.

I look at her brother. He stares blankly back.

‘Ah… I guess?” I didn’t know what else to say. “Sure.” I try to make my voice sound casual.

“GRRREAT!” Then she twirls. She actually spins in place. My mouth drops open. Then I notice the ear buds that are stuck in her ears, its long white cord was tangled mess coming out of her backpack. That sort of explained the dancing.

“OK then! Why don’t we meet after school?” She grabs her brothers’ hand and as they turn he gives me a small smile. They head out the door. She is bouncing and dancing. He saunters. I stand there in the middle of the room … stunned. A bell rings.

Shoot… Lit. wasn’t going to be fun… Mrs. Tanaka hated late comers.

It wasn’t so bad though as I snuck into class. She pursed her lips a little, clearly exasperated but I had run all the way there and I’d just missed the second late bell. She’d started her lecture on the life of Jane Austen. Depressing but you could see where her life reflected her writing. Where she let her dreams of what might have been color her prose. It’s an enlightening lecture.

The bell rings and everyone begins to file out of class. Mrs. Tanaka gives her last minute notes, “Everyone, please remember that your monthly reviews are due tomorrow.” She clears her throat as I near the door. “Miss Lyons, please come to my desk.”

Crap. Another, “Are you okay? Give it some time, you’ll like this school” speech. Now I was going to be late for Gym.

***

I rush into the gym locker room at top speed and I nearly crash into a blond blur of a girl who was running out. I grab the door to prevent myself from launching into her. She stops neatly in front of me, a foot away from my face. I blink. I could have sworn she had been flying out of that door with more momentum then I had going in and yet she had come to a complete stop without help. I was still clutching the door for support.

“I’m sorry.” I had almost run her the girl down and now she was apologizing. Her voice had a British lilt to it. It was faintly melodic.

I look up. It was the girl from my Sciences class, Jen. She smiles in polite recognition, her honey brown eyes scrunch apologetically. “Looks like were both late.” Her laughter rings out into the field behind us. Her curly blond hair bounces in the slight breeze. “Julia, right? I’ll come up with something good for both of us.” She runs off without another look.

I hurry into the locker room, the encounter with Jen still fresh in my mind. What did she mean by come up with something good … I didn’t even know the girl. I recognize her from class but we had only briefly spoken today and before that I’d hardly said one word to her in the past three weeks since school started. I stuff my bag and all my clothes haphazardly into my locker and slam it shut. The second bell rings. Wonderful. Now I would have to do laps.

It wasn’t the running that I minded. I’d be just awesome if Coach Barrett made me run during the whole class. We were playing volleyball today, a game that I was actually pretty good at … but not here. Not when I didn’t know anyone else in my class. Here I seemed to play the role of the clumsy girl. I’d become the last person to be picked on every team. That meant I was on the bench a lot. The coach thought I was inept.

I fly into the gym doors, the long handle giving way to my push. I groan, all heads turn towards my bumbling entrance. I’d just interrupted a lecture. I sprint toward the group. I wait for Coach Barrett’s booming voice to sentence me to whatever extreme punishment he deemed necessary.

“Hurry up Lyons! We’re just about to start!” I stop in front of the coach, head down.

“Coach, I’m so sorry… I…” My mind was blank. I’d never been good at lying and it was impossible for me to form a coherent sentence at the moment.

Coach lowers his voice a bit. “It’s okay Julia. You’re on Jennifer’s team on court four.” I must have had an incredulous look on my face bordering on blank stupidity. He continues, “Hey, Lyons… I know this class has been hard for you but Jennifer explained that you’ve been having some difficulty with the change of this school. She also mentioned that you’re a fantastic volleyball player. I expect that the extra sessions you two have been putting in will help out in tryouts this evening.” He slaps my back and jogs over to the other side of the gym.

I sprint over to court four. They were already mid game. I would have to sit out again. Jen smiles as I approach. She cries out “Sub!” and turns to a small boy who looks like he’s never played any sort of organized sport in his life. She smiles, dimples deepening, and says something that makes his face brightened. He runs towards me with gratitude and says, “Thanks! If Rich beams me with the ball again I might be sick.”

“Come on Julia! You’re holding the game up!” A gruff voice sounds from the other side of the court. We were playing against Rich and a few other kids I didn’t recognize. Despite the growl that came from his side of the court he had a huge grin on his face. I couldn’t help but give him a small smile back.

“Hey RICH! No flirting with my players! Come on Julia, you’re serving.” I blush a little, but she hadn’t said it meanly. Her face was a welcome but determined smile. She stuck her hand out to meet mine as I got into place. “I’m Jen. I hope you’re a good player… I really want to kick Rich’s…” She didn’t get to finish.

“Hey,” Rich calls out, “is this social hour or are we playing.”

Both Jen and I snap our heads towards him, determined. She jogs over to the front right corner. The dirty white ball feels good in my hand. I throw the ball up and as my hand finds the ball again I know this is going to be a good game. I spike the ball over the net. It would have met Rich’s face but he ducks just in time, the ball slaps against the floor behind him before the girl behind him can save it.

My team roars and for the first time in a month I feel welcome.

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