I thought I’d add a new category to the “Mega Writing,” called “Shorts.” This is a piece I wrote a couple years ago for a competition, and I’m so honored it made it to New York! Remember this site is also a place for my portfolio, so please enjoy, everyone!
I tap my finger anxiously on my thigh, the only thing stopping the rest of my body from shaking uncontrollably. It’s those moments that get to you, the ones that are so unbearable to the point that your mind is anywhere but in the present, an escape passage. Yet, there are those moments, like this one, that can’t help you escape, that do the exact opposite of that: trapping you in, creating kaleidoscopes of memories that sharpen into arrows and are thrown at you simultaneously. And the simple tapping of a finger is the only meter keeping me safe, keeping me from punching someone in the face. Not because I hate them, but because I hate myself.
In the park behind the church is a little girl playing with three big dogs, who lick her until she laughs so hard she falls onto the grass. She’s a small, innocent blank slate, unprepared for the troubles that lie ahead. Another girl about the same age stands behind a tree nearby, watching with wide eyes. I could write the rest of the scene…and I don’t even know them.
I quickly turn my head. It hurts too much to look, to know what’s going to happen next. How badly I want to turn back the clock to that moment of pure innocence is unexplainable. I could have done something about what happened to her.
But, now, it’s too late.
“Hey, new girl! Go back to where you came from!”
“Yeah! Nobody wants you here!”
Everyone laughs. I hide behind a tree next to the monkey bars. Mommy and Daddy said that Seattle would be fun. It’s not. It’s dark and cold and rainy.
“Is your name Carter? Isn’t that a boy’s name?”
“Maybe your mom wanted a boy instead of you!”
“Your mom doesn’t even want you here!” one blonde girl, laughed.
They’re all quiet now and I open my eyes. A little girl with red hair and pale skin is standing in front of me.
“Oh yeah?” Blonde Girl rudely exclaims, “Bite me.”
Redhead grabs her wrist and bites it. I laugh. Blonde Girl cries to Teacher. Teacher walks up to Redhead.
“Did you bite Lizzie, Annabel?” Teacher asks.
Annabel points at me. “They were mean to her.”
Teacher holds their hands. “Time out for both of you.”
Uh-oh. Teacher walks away and I try to tell her it’s my fault, but Annabel turns her bright, blue eyes on me for the first time and smiles. “It’s OK. I like you.”
The only one who liked me was the one I hurt. It’s weird how much we learn as time waltzes on, looking back and thinking how stupid we were. Yet some of us don’t learn, dwelling on the negative side and doing nothing to fix them. The girls in the park are both playing with the dogs now, the timid one reaching out to an unfamiliar fear while the other comforted her. The best part was that this was only the bud of a friendship, a flower that bloomed over time. But like every other life, a flower must die, sharing its beauty with new flowers. And it was, then, up to the newborns to take advantage of what they were given.
Calling it a house was an understatement. It was a mansion, and a sudden change in scenery from the dirty floors of the soup kitchen only made me wonder why Annabel even cared about homeless people.
She had everything. When I walked inside, the first things I noticed were the windows: they covered almost every inch of the walls, light spilling through to make the room feel fuller. The floors were spotless and the towering, spiral staircase stood majestic to match the rest of her home. It felt like I had tramped through a king’s palace, my shirt still stained with dirt and raw meat. With the best etiquette, all I could do was gape.
“I’ve known you for, like, six years, and you’ve never taken me to your house before.”
She shrugs. “It’s not that special.”
“And you think mine is? I live in a shack in the middle of the woods.”
“Your house is cute. And there are so many animals living around you. It’s friendly!”
Suddenly, a few dogs leap down the cascading stairs right on top of us. Annabel greets them with backrubs and laughter, kissing each one of them on the head, as I retreat behind a pillar to increase distance between them and myself. Annabel looked at me and giggled. “C’mon, Carter. They don’t bite. I promise.”
It wasn’t until I inched closer did I notice something unusual. The biggest dog had a patch covering his left eye; the smallest was limping around in circles, and one seemed to be dragging his body across the ceramic floor. Annabel pointed at them, accordingly, “This is Bailey,” she said, rubbing his ears, “the small one is Dale, and the other one’s Miles.”
“They’re cute,” I responded.
She followed my gaze towards Dale’s legs. One of them was shorter than the others which explained the limping, but his excitement caused him to fall over a few times. “Yeah, I like to adopt disabled dogs.” She picks Dale up and hugs him tight. “They deserve to be loved after what they’ve been through.”
And that’s when I realized Annabel was far from average.
I could taste salty water running down my cheek, watching memories be brought to life right in front of me. Reminiscing brings tears of remorse, but I felt myself smile when watching the dogs chase them around the swing set. They reminded me of why I loved her so much. I took a deep breath as a part of my calming exercise, discretely wiping away the dripping mascara on my cheek. I didn’t want to share my memories with anyone else.
“Why do your eyes look so weird?”
I kick the dirt at my feet with the new boots that Mom bought me. She knows I’m stalling, praying for the bus to come early on the first day of school. Mom insisted on a new wardrobe for my last year in junior high school, but I felt out of my element. Having makeup pasted on your face was not the most comfortable situation to be in.
I pulled the small, black tube out of my new purse. “You put it on your eyelashes, like this,” I demonstrated.
Annabel makes a disgusting face. “You know they test those on animals, right?”
I shook my head. Annabel kept the same look, thinking it’d be weird if she dressed in any other color but green. She opened her journal, covered with her favorite flower prints and animal sketches. It was her most treasured possession; she never allowed it to leave her sight. I’m glad something was normal about this year. I feel like I’ve been transformed into a wannabe popular diva, which Mom said would give me confidence.
I think I’ve lost my self confidence, now.
I’m sapping up all of my energy from Annabel’s strong-hearted personality, glued to her side as we walk through the halls. We’re usually invisible, but I couldn’t help but shine brighter than a blazing fire. Everyone keeps looking at me and whispering as I make my way to my locker. It’s worse because Annabel’s locker is farther away from mine now. Good-bye, confidence.
“Hey, Carter! What’s up?”
I turn around to see Lizzie, blonde and beautiful, standing behind me. She looks surprised, but happy to see me. “You’re speaking to me?” Ever since we met in kindergarten, we were never on the same page, always glaring at each other. She was my personal bully.
“Oh, silly goose, I haven’t seen you in awhile! That’s why—”
“We’ve been in the same classes for eight years.”
She sighs. “Look, I know I’ve been kind of harsh on you for the past few years, but you know that’s just friendly girl talk, right?”
She laughs. “I’m not as mean as you think. We should catch up, let’s say, during lunch? Then you’ll see how friendly girls can be.”
I glance down the hallway at Annabel. She’s standing at her locker, her red hair braided down her back, and she’s pressing another leaf she found outside of the school into her journal. Lizzie follows my gaze towards Annabel and smirks. “Oh and don’t bring your little friend with you. We don’t need to be contaminated by nature freaks more than we already are, now do we?” she winks.
Nature freak kept texting me. And it was getting annoying.
*U want 2 go 2 soup kitchen w/ me*
And let poor people, below me, touch my well-manicured hands. I think not?
*Mom making gluten free curry. Dinner?*
Ew. There’s a fine line between healthy and gross.
*Dolphin special @ aquarium. Come?*
We’re not five anymore. And I hate animals.
*Y r u ignoring me?*
For Pete’s sake, could she stop?
After awhile, she stopped talking to me, stopped looking at me. And the farther we drifted apart, the more she changed.
Her sudden change in wardrobe provided a radical contrast to the green that enveloped the entirety of her personality; she started to dress in black as her optimism slowly died down to depression. The girls in the park look up now, noticing grey clouds coming in, and run for coverage. The ground shakes with thunder and everyone is opening their umbrellas as they continue to listen. But my finger is still tapping and my feet refuse to move.
I finally understood how Annabel felt.
She dropped out of school over a year ago, but it felt like she was still around. The rumors wouldn’t stop: she got pregnant, she got arrested smuggling drugs across the border, her hair was died so blonde that it was the most vulnerable to alien abduction. They were amusing, I’d have to admit, and I constantly laughed about how Nature freak had transformed into Goth freak.
Nobody ever said her name, like she was the Dark One out to get us. She had made her mark, and it wasn’t the one she wanted to make when adopting those dogs.
To think that I was a participator in this was disgusting. But to think that I instigated the problems tore me to shreds. Maybe it’s a mind game, but listening too many times caused me to start believing in the rumors.
“Did you hear what happened to her?” Maggie asked one boy in math class. Oh boy.
“Don’t say it. I’m so done with these rumors. She probably just moved.”
“She didn’t. I mean, she moved schools, but she still lives in that mansion. I would know. I’m her neighbor.” The most reliable source so far.
“So you know what happened to her?”
“Her parents got a divorce, and then her dad died from leukemia. Crushed her to bits.”
“That explains why she wore black.”
“I don’t know, Jay. Most people don’t keep wearing black.”
“You think she’s depressed?”
“She is depressed. Her mom found her cutting herself and sent her to rehab—”
“When she dropped out of school?”
“Right. But apparently the facility was terrible, because she came back home in a worse wreck than she was before. She brings a different guy home every night. It’s creepy.”
“I know. I saw pictures on Facebook. What a slut.”
“Yeah, people haven’t forgotten her…still a crazy bitch.”
I take a deep breath and ring the doorbell.
If anyone was a crazy bitch, it was me. I stole the sunlight away from her life and shined it on myself instead, leaving a hole in her heart which was only filled with grey depression. Because I shot a bullet through it, I am the only one who could fix it. Maybe she’d give me a chance to redeem myself, to help her fix it. Or maybe she’d slap me in the face and tell me to get a life. But I have to try; I’m desperate.
I look behind me at the drizzling rain, the awning of the porch being my only coverage. Glancing up, the windows are all covered with heavy drapes, the trees slouching over the tall, unhealthy grass. A small dog limps over to me and I jump. Ew. I try to scoot away from his eager tongue, frightened at his overgrown damp hair and dirty paws. It takes me awhile to recognize Dale.
I knock on the door this time.
I try the knob and the door creeks open. “Hello?”
The king’s palace had become a haunted mansion, cobwebs decorating the staircase with dust sweeping across the ceramic floor. Even if she wasn’t taking care of the house, her mom should have been. I reach for the light switch to find a spider attempting to crawl over my hand. I scream and shove my hand into my pocket.
A voice comes from upstairs, and, unnaturally, I bound towards it. A light leaks through a room at the top of the staircase, the usual sign of relief, could be the one thing I didn’t want to see. But curiosity led me further, no matter how scared I was.
She doesn’t even look at me when I come in, her fingers continuing to slide off the cap of the bottle of pills. “IT WON’T OPEN!” she screams.
I didn’t notice the changes in her face until after I knocked the bottle out of her hand. Her skin had gotten paler and her cheeks looked swollen. There’s a large bruise above her right eyebrow, which only sharpened the dark circles under her piercing blue eyes. Her lips are parched, streaming tears being the only water touching them. I look around to see a long rope attached to the top of the closet door along with multiple kitchen knives standing casually on the desk beside it. Bottles of pills are scattered across her bed, which is splotched with blood. Her feet are scratched from the glass of the broken picture frames thrown on the ground.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I ask quietly.
“I HATE MY LIFE! SO STOP TRYING TO MAKE IT WORSE!
The rain is pouring by the time I merge off the highway towards Greenday Health and Rehabilitation Center. I flip the high beams on, knowing that nobody else would be on this road. Hopefully, this hospital will be more help than the last one she went to. After wrestling her into the car, it felt like I was taking a criminal to his jail cell.
“Where are we going?” she asks shakily.
I looked over at her. “I found somebody who can help you.”
“Well, it’s pretty obvious.”
“No, I mean, why are you even trying?” she interrupts. “My mom doesn’t even want to try anymore.”
It took awhile for me to utter the next few words. “I still care about you.”
“Since when do you care about anybody but yourself?” her voice rising.
“I’ve always cared,” I say, defensively. The rumors had been killing me for months.
“That really showed when you ditched me for Lizzie, the one who turned you into a first-class bitch.”
“Just because I didn’t want to see dolphins, doesn’t mean I ditched you.”
She’s yelling now. “You are so stupid! It was never about the dolphins! It was about spending time together! Because you were my friend and friends are always with each other!”
“I’m with you right now.”
“You seriously have no idea how much you hurt me! I helped you when nobody else would!”
“That’s not true…”
“Yeah? Well, was Lizzie the one who wanted to be your friend when everyone bullied you?”
I’m quiet for a few minutes. Then, I turn to look at her, “The only person you hurt was yourself, and I’m trying to help you. All you need to do is listen to me—”
“NO!” she screamed.
“Why would I listen to you? Every time I did what you wanted, I got hurt! That’s all you wanted to do. And the only reason why you’re helping me now is to save yourself from guilt later. You know what? Congratulations! You’ve succeeded!”
I was so pissed that I didn’t see the headlights coming from behind her. The last image of her was one I desperately wanted to erase. Her face was blushed red for the first time, her blue eyes turning dark. I saw a small tattoo of a cross under her ear, but I knew she wasn’t religious. Maybe it was a sign of hope or strength.
But it was too late.
It wasn’t fair. I got a cast. She got a grave.
The rain is still pouring down as her mother gives words of grace on the muddy grass. There are only five people here, including me, the five who cared about her. Yet, the scars on my face stood out more than anything, the marks of a murderer. The hard expression on her face hit me harder than the drunk driver’s car. And because I couldn’t erase the scars, those were the memories that had to be shared with everybody: the mistakes I made with Annabel.
I kneel down in front of her stepping stone. She could have been so much more. This isn’t a girl who was isolated into depression. This is a girl who befriended me when nobody else would, who wanted me to stay true to myself. This is a girl who taught people to love others around them, because there were many who didn’t even have that. This is a girl who deserved to live.
This is Annabel.