Yah. I think this chapter is kind of long.
But I promised I'd publish it, and I did.
"Why do you even like her?" I asked, running my hands through the grassy terrain of the field. I squinted in the light of the sun, rays catching fire in my auburn hair.
He smiles. "What, you forgot your sunscreen? Heat too much for you?"
"Yes. But that doesn't answer my question."
He sighed, reaching into his jacket pocket for a pair of sunglasses. My eyes lingered on his brusied fingertips, swollen, purple around the edges with a tinge of red. Burned. "I don't know, Rae. She's just cool. You might even like her, too, if you gave her a chance."
"We've hated her since, like, third grade," I said, slipping his glasses over my eyes. He cringed when my skin touched his.
"She's actually, you know, nice," he said, plucking a strand of grass from the earth. "She...likes a lot of the same bands we do."
"Stephen. We've hated her since third grade."
"I know, I know," he replied. "But sometimes, you have to learn to give people a chance."
I looked back up, dim sunlight filling my dead eyes. "Do you love her?"
"Rae..." His own zombie eyes meet mine, earthy brown against oceans of sea-green, all hidden behind glassy pupils and shattered dreams, identical scars engraved into sun-kissed skin. "...have you been cutting again?"
"That depends. Have you been burning again?"
He looked down at his fingers. "It doesn't matter."
"To hell it does." I sunk back into the weeds, letting the overgrown foliage bury me alive, if only for a minute. "And you're not giving me any answers. I asked you if you loved her, Cadey. Do you?"
"I don't think I can."
"Ms. Sanders, I would appreciate it if you would work on your project now and catch up on your sleep at a later time." The room comes spinning back into focus, summery light replaced with dim, lifeless walls, lined with high school heartbreak.
"Sorry, sir," I say between yawns.
"Don't let it happen again. This is Art, not naptime."
My mind drifts me between the line of reality and my nightmares. The colors on the page blur underneath my heavy eyelids, hands moving lethargically across the canvas page. Dreamland has nearly shrouded my vision when my backpack falls over, spilling its contents onto the blue and white checkered linoleum. "Shit."
"Here," someone says with a sneer, kneeling to pick up a green colored pencil. "You dropped this."
I glare at Melissa, black baseball cap shadowing her face. I can barely make out the contours of her blackened eyes, dying embers implanted in her skull. "Yeah, I know. Thanks."
She smirks. "Don't mention it."
I can feel the scars convering my arms illuminated in the cafeteria's yellowed overhead lights. Every eye glances back at me, a skeleton body that climbed out of her grave, roaming in forbidden territory. Maybe some of them can see all the way through, past the ghost standing in front of them and straight out the door.
I feel a hand tug on my oversized t-shirt.
"Sit down," Melissa says, snapping her fingers at the empty chair adjacent to hers. The whole table is barren, with the exception of her small messenger bag and a black sketchpad. She pushes the book to her end of the table, making room for my tray next to hers.
I glance over my shoulders before sliding into the plastic seat. "What do you want?"
She fingers a charcoal pencil, testing the tip on her thumb before opening the book to a crisp white page. Her hands glide over the paper gently, leaving tracks of blackness in its path. "You dropped something in class today. I wanted to give it back is all."
"Fine. Can I have it?"
"Man, that sure is a lot of food," she remarks, eyeballing my tray. "I didn't think chicken parm went well with ice cream."
"Can I just have whatever you wanted to give me already?" I say behind clenched teeth. She shrugs, not meeting my gaze as she reaches into the pocket of her paint-splattered bag.
Her fist closes over an off-white stick, pink cross plastered inside its tiny window. My throat closes, the phantoms within sealing my lungs tight. She places her hand in mine, tranferring the weight of the world back into my posession. I don't remember how to breath.
"Are you OK?" Melissa asks, still looking down at her notebook.
I shatter, an artificial smile glued against my skin. Hands tremble in unison with the voice threatening to erupt from my throat. The demons call me back into the blackness of apathy, numbness pouring over me like falling bathwater. "I-I-I'm fine."
She looks up, catlike gaze piercing through me like a blade from the glass castle walls she's built around herself. "You're always fine," she says, "but you're never really OK."
"Well, this time, I am," I reply. "Or, I will be. I-I'm taking care of it."
"Oh, I'm sure." She smirks again. "And I'm sure everyone will be thrilled when you tell them. Like your parents. They'll be ecstatic to hear that their precious little angel went and got herself knocked up."
I clench my teeth, ball my fists.
"And the father. He'll love to hear this. Oh, wait, I forgot. He's not quite available at the moment."
I stand, pushing my tray across the table. She glares nonchalantly from behind her fortress, constructed from lies, paved with sullen memories. I feel blood boil in my veins, begging for the floor of red on the tiled bathroom floor. Addiction hits me like a punch to the guy, seducing me back to the bathroom counter and to the blade on my skin.
"Well," she continues, "good luck. Mom."