To Feel Alive

Louise has never been lucky in life, losing her best friend and mother within a year, and now has a Dad who barely recognises her existence. All she has left is Cody, with whom her relationship is strictly friendly, and a small but successful business where she anonymously helps girls decide whether a boy is worth dating. But one day she receives an email from Maisie, the most popular girl at school who she tries to avoid at all costs, asking for her help. The choices that follow will make life as she knows it unrecognisable.

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1. Chapter One

 

I checked my lip gloss in my wind screen mirror, applying another coat before smacking my lips together and squinting as I inspected my eye makeup. I ran my fingers through my slightly curled, blonde hair and my reflection nodded back at me as I decided I was ready. I stepped out of the car and smoothed down the front of my floral dress before heading into John and Paulie’s coffee shop.

I felt bad carrying out business there. I’d known them since I was a baby and I’d regularly hung out with the town’s renowned gay couple. They’d fed me hot chocolate in the winter and ice cold smoothies in the not-so-warm summer. I’d dangled my legs over the counter and smiled at the customers as they passed through who would inevitably compliment me in some way. I’d become used to praise outside the house by that time, but yet I still appreciated it, because it was a rare occurrence at home, where the fights continued long into the night as I wrapped my blankets around my ears and sucked my thumb.

The familiar bell tinkled as I entered above my head, and Paulie waved cheerily from the counter. I smiled in recognition as I glanced around the shop for my target, locating Adam Beesby in the far left corner. I frowned a little. Normally my victims liked to be in clear view for passers-by; to show me off. Maybe he had intimate plans for this encounter. I grimaced before walking over and plastering on my most sparkling smile.

“Louise!” he said, face lighting up at the sight of me. He did not get to his feet as I approached, and I made a mental note of this slip-up. “You look stunning!” The good points were also carefully remembered.

“Thank you,” I said, sliding into my chair as gracefully as I could manage and tucking some strands of hair behind my right ear. “I can’t be here long; I’ve got to work at Marco’s and my shift starts in half an hour.” Adam’s face fell. “I hope that’s okay!” I said, sweetly, taking his hand in mine and letting them rest, entangled, on the table top. Instantaneously, the overly wide grin returned to his goofy face. I wasn’t entirely sure what Gemma May saw in him, but it was just another job.

I ordered a latte with triple shot and plenty of whipped cream  and Adam then awkwardly went on to decide on a can of Coke after glancing down the extensive menu for the best part of two minutes. Paulie delivered our beverages, winking at me as he walked away, and I blushed a little, staring at my feet as I tried to control a laugh.

 I hoped he didn’t really think I was on a date with Adam Beesby. Yes, he was mildly attractive if you looked beyond the ‘my-mum-still-cuts-it’ hair style and the slightly wonky front teeth. However he was good at sport and yet elected to join the math team, spending his lunch times holed up in the laboratories rather than go to team practice where he could actually be considered cool. This factor was why I was unsure why Gemma liked him when she was a cheerleader like me. Maybe she was into the whole cool ‘geek’ think; I didn’t know, but I just had to endure another fourteen minutes of this before I could escape and deliver my report.

“So you cheer don’t you?” he said in an attempt to make conversation. I nodded, licking the froth from my lips.

“I did gym from a young age so it was the next step. I’m really flexible,” I said teasingly, and watched Adam’s face contort into an expression of pleasure before it went from white to crimson in a split second as he pretended to become infatuated with the salt and pepper shakers. “And you like sports too?” I said quickly in an attempt to sap the colour from his cheeks before people started to stare.

“Well, they asked me to join football but they keep moaning at me for not turning up to training. I just don’t find it interesting,” he mumbled, shifting in his seat.

“And what do you find interesting?” I asked, as if I cared. Thirteen minutes.

“Math and science,” he replied, glancing at the wall. “Lame, I know.”

“Well if you like it, that’s all that matters, right?” He looked across at me, eyes wide and mouth slightly open.

“Right!” he said, suddenly animated. “Nobody ever tells me that. Gemma May keeps saying I should ditch it but I don’t really want to. It’s my dream!” Alarm bells rang in my head. I didn’t want to know anything about his feelings towards Gemma. I liked to be as removed from their relationship as possible and quickly searched for a diversion from the topic of his potential girlfriend, who had put me up to this.

“So what is it about math and science then?” I decided upon, and immediately Adam launched into a radical and thoroughly dull speech about the pleasure that can be found amongst numbers and chemicals, and the right combinations, and the wonders that can occur. I encouraged him as he went, looking like a nodding dog in the process as there was no hope of me interjecting; he just kept talking. I guess it was in a strange way adorable how passionate he was, and if he could transfer that into love for Gemma, I was sure they’d be happy together. 

“That’s really interesting, Adam, but I have to go now! But this was fun, and I’ll see you around, okay?”  I said, getting to my feet.

“Wait, are we going to do this again?” he said, looking shocked.

“I thought I made it clear we were just hanging out? As friends?” I said, cocking my head to one side.

“Oh, erm, yeah, of course,” Adam stuttered, turning scarlet once more. “I’ll see you at school then.”

“Thanks,” I said, tapping his hand affectionately before turning and allowing my smile to drop, massaging my cheeks conspicuously on the way out.

I headed to work after, changing into my regulatory polo top and trousers before serving customers buying their various gardening tools. It wasn't the worst job possible. I got to sample a variety of different scents from new and exciting flowers, and inspect each delivery to ensure there were no broken petals or mangled stems. The downside was passing the various spades and trowels through the till, and when I worked later in the evening, especially in the winter where the sky had turned an inky black, I couldn't shake the feeling the customers would wait for me outside until my shift finished to whack me around the head with whichever item I'd just assisted them in purchasing.

However, I survived the uneventful four hours on that lazy Saturday afternoon injury free and drove myself back home, walking up the small, well-laid path to the front door, letting myself in where I was greeted by the undisturbed sound of silence. I went up to my room, plugged in my IPod, and instantly corrected this as I blasted my music so it would be heard in every corner of the house before I changed into my favourite pair of tracksuit bottoms and t-shirt, scrubbing off my makeup with a wipe and bunching my hair up on top of my head.

An unfinished English essay lay waiting for me as I propped open my laptop, but I minimised the document with a shrug of the shoulders and flicked onto my business email, searching through the various contacts to Gemma.

Dear Gemma,

After a successful meeting with Adam Beesby, I can give you the following report on the boy in question; he lacked various assumed airs and graces, ordered the plainest and most unadventurous drink on the menu and talked uninterrupted for the majority of the twenty minutes about his love for science and math. However, he was fairly sweet, complimentary and dressed appropriately. If you are willing to look past the slightly nerdy qualities he possesses, he seems like a suitable boyfriend for most girls.

Love Always,

Anonymous Town Whore

(Payment Still Due: $15, Total $30)

I sent it and proceeded to go through my inbox where I had received two more requests, one from Rachel Arin; plain, quiet and a bookworm with great taste in mystery novels we sometimes shared, and another who made me choke on my pop tart as I acknowledged the name. 

Maisie Hornet; only the most popular, beautiful, stuck-up, mean girl in the whole of Stornham High. She spoke to me on rare occasions, and always wore an expression of disgust, defined by the wrinkling of her pointy nose - which was fake, just like her hair extensions. The only thing that was real about her was her designer handbags and clothes which she couldn't wait to show off each time she received them from her famous director-daddy who lived in Los Angeles.

I'd heard her regularly laughing at the whole concept of ‘Anonymous Town Whore’, particularly with the other cheerleaders, of which I knew half to have used the service; because of course, unknown to them, I ran it. But what confused me most about Maisie Hornet was she had been in a relationship for the best part of a year with her male clone, Brody. It was like her director-daddy (how she always referred to him) had demanded a technology to be created just so Maisie could replicate herself to go out with because she was too perfect to ever find somebody suitable. Maisie was unlike-able, but Brody Lundern, her boyfriend, was just annoying. My mouth hung open as I read her email.

Dear ATW,

So I don't know how many girls ask for your help. I sort of think this whole system is kind of stupid but I'm desperate and I see why you might be able to make this easier. Whoever you are, you probably know who I am. Maisie, the girl with the director-daddy. I've been going out with Brody for a while now and I think maybe he's cheating on me.

So I need you to go to this party next Friday at Anna Rover's. I'm not going as my director-daddy is meeting me out of town. I want you to try and hit on him and see if he reacts. Monitor how much alcohol he drinks too. Whatever the cost, I'll pay it. I see your maximum is a hundred dollars for a request and I'll settle on that. Just please tell me what's happening with him. He's been really distant and I’m concerned.

Maisie Hornet

I raised my eyebrows one after the other carefully as I inspected the email once more. I'd often considered abusing the confidentiality agreement I shared with any clients who contacted my email, asking for me to screen potential or existing boyfriends, but it sure was tempting this time. I could now go to school and tell everyone how I knew that Maisie had contacted the Anonymous Town Whore through her website, making her a total hypocrite, and that she thought her 'true love' Brody was cheating on her.

Yes, it was tempting, but it wasn't worth revealing my identity to the whole school and losing future business, as I still needed more money for college tuition. Girls, like Gemma, asked me to eye up boys for them to see how they fared and they paid for it. I knew I was attractive and I'd never met a boy yet who refused to spend enough time with me for me to not gather if he was a good guy. Plus it was an easy way to make money, but Brody Lundern... He was something else. However I liked a challenge, no matter how grotesque their attitude. I hit reply on my email defiantly, deciding to undertake Maisie’s request.

Dear Maisie,

Pay half the hundred as a deposit by the party and I’ll accept the request.

Love Always,

Anonymous Town Whore

And then, just ten minutes later, there was a ping in my inbox, notifying me that fifty dollars had just been paid into my account. I grinned as I checked my current balance before flicking onto clothes websites with my new-found fund. I was going to a party next Friday now, and I needed something to wear.

 

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