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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4. Chapter Four

 

When I eventually arrived home, it was almost three in the morning. I’d stopped off at a café on the highway for a coffee to ensure I actually made it back without falling asleep at the wheel, and played my music as loud as was acceptable, but I didn’t need to worry about passers-by judging me; the roads were practically deserted.

I was ready to fall into my bed and grab a few hours’ sleep before I had to be up the next morning until I approached the drive and found a car to be parked in my usual space; Dad’s car. He was home from his business trip that he’d described to me when he left a month ago to be of an “unconfirmed length”. I’d become used to this sort of terminology, which resulted in anything from two days to two months of abandonment on his part. And now he was back, and I didn’t even feel a slight leap in my heart at the sight of his sleek, Mercedes. I just wanted my bed.

I opened the door to find the house was just as it always was, only a couple suitcases were propped up at the bottom of the stairs and I could hear a slight snoring coming from the master bedroom. He probably hadn’t even noticed I wasn’t home, and, with this knowledge weighing on my mind, I went straight to my room and fell asleep still dressed in my jeans and t-shirt.

I was dreary the next morning as I woke, the lack of sleep prominent by a slight headache at the forefront of my thoughts. I showered to try and shake off the grogginess and pulled my hair up, too sleep-deprived to care to style it. I made my way to the kitchen where Dad’s plate, still with the toast crumbs littering it, was resting on the table next to a half-finished glass of juice. The juice I still bought every week in case he came back that I had no preference for. The highlight of my morning was a sweet text from Cody I was definitely in need of;

I bet somebody doesn’t feel too perky this morning? ;) C

I managed a half smile as I text back;

Feel like crap – but it was worth it. L

The day drew on painfully slowly, and I couldn’t even get involved in my English class, remaining silent through the whole hour which I knew Mrs Dubel noticed, but did not question. My avid contributions to every other class fully made up for my lack of doing so for one lesson.

Cheer practice was the worst. Maisie still had that cold look in her eyes, and all the girls yelling chants at the tops of their voices complemented my headache spectacularly in trying to drag my lids downward.

I lost the battle in Math, being jolted awake by Rachel who sat next to me and matched my poor ability for the subject. “Do you need to go see the nurse?” she asked, her furrowed brow depicting her concern.

“Yeah…yeah, I’m going to go home,” I said, telling Mr Aran I was feeling too ill to continue. I went to the bathroom on my way out, having to laugh at the dark circles that encased my eyes. This noise was followed by the sound of somebody retching which made me jump away from the mirror in surprise. I hadn’t realised anyone else was in there.

“Are you okay?” I called out to whoever occupied the stall, and heard the toilet flush and somebody get to their feet, though they didn’t show themselves. “Hello?” No matter how tired I was and desperate for some shut-eye, my inner conscience refused to be stifled; that and my curiosity. Slowly the door swung open to reveal Maisie, wiping underneath her eyes that matched mine in colour, only hers were so because of teary mascara stains.

“Oh, it’s you,” I said, trying not to sound too unnerved. “Erm, are you okay?” I repeated, as she made her way to the sink and washed her damp hands, splashing her face with the cool water.

“Sort of,” she replied, bending over the counter top, and taking deep breaths.

“Okay, then I’ll go…” I said, making a break for the door when Maisie spoke again.

“No, I’m not,” she wept, slowly sinking to the ground. “I’m a mess.” And she was, both emotionally and physically, and yet the only thought that was running through my head was ‘Could this get any more awkward?’. I shouldn’t have to deal with her; she should be going to her friends for help.

“Maybe you can go talk to the guidance counsellor or something?” I suggested, knowing this was pitiful advice that had been dished out to me countless times to try and pull me out of my depressive state.

“I can’t. I need someone my age!”

“A friend?” I said, as a final plea, but when Maisie looked up hopelessly, I knew there was no way out of this. “Or maybe me?” Her face immediately softened as I said this and walked over to stand tentatively above her.

“You know those floors aren’t really the cleanest.” Maisie shrugged. Oh right. Just shrug. Shrug about the fact you’re currently wearing jeans that almost certainly cost over a hundred dollars. But your life is ending because you’re now single so it’s all fine.

“Maybe you could talk to Brody about it? Ask why he did it?”

“He said he was just…bored,” Maisie said. “How could he be bored of me?” I mentally forced myself not to call her up on that last comment with true honesty, and allowed it to become soaked up in the ensuing silence.  “What do you do to feel better?” she asked as I fiddled with the hanging thread of my top.

“I eat ice cream,” I said bluntly, and Maisie’s eyes widened as if I’d just confessed to watching daily lesbian porn. “The sugar rush helps. Ben and Jerry’s is obviously my favourite, but if I can face going out of the house, I go to John and Paulie’s.”

“The gay guys’ shop?”

“Yeah, I’ve known them since I was tiny.”

“Your parents let you hang out with…homosexuals?” I shrugged.

“It’s no big deal. I don’t think they cared who I was with as long as I was out of sight.” I was saying way too much.

“Do you think maybe…we could go get ice cream?” Maisie said, staring straight at her knees. As bitchy as I’d gathered her to be from observation and idle gossip, at this moment, she looked like an innocent, desperate child, curled up on a grimy tiled floor, hair falling out of its ponytail in wispy strands.

“Sure,” I found myself saying, before I thought it through, and Maisie’s face lit up as she got to her feet, swiping away her tears with the knuckles, and her eyes glistened slightly as she smiled whilst my stomach dropped. I was going to John and Paulie’s with a girl I’d frequently described as being the nastiest in our year, and I was abandoning my plans for an afternoon nap; because of her.

We barely talked as we walked out of school together, side by side and yet we were a considerable distance apart that we may not be travelling toward the same place. “Have you ever been to John and Paulie’s before?” I asked, in a feeble attempt at conversation. Maisie shook her head. 

“I normally go out of town if I don’t eat at home,” she said, sniffing a little.

“Don’t you have a cook anyway?”

“Yeah but she doesn’t have very good English.” Our conversing ended there until we arrived at the café, passing through the front door where Paulie greeted me enthusiastically from the counter before his eyes jutted back and forth from me to Maisie.

“And who is this?” he asked, as I hugged him casually.

“Maisie from school. She’s on the Cheer team, and I told her you do really good ice cream,” I said, propping myself up on the counter.

“That we do,” Paulie said, winking at Maisie who blushed, biting her lip. I wasn’t sure if she had a problem with gay people, or just found Paulie to be overly eccentric as she was not used to guys being like that, but either way, he was my friend and I didn’t really care what she thought. “Two chocolate sundaes?”

“Definitely,” I said, adding, “They’re the best,” as I glanced over at Maisie who stood awkwardly by one of the tables. The café was relatively empty at this time of day as everyone was in school or at work, and so the only residents were a few of the elderly members of our community as well as some babies and toddlers with their mothers. John was keeping two of them entertained whilst their mothers had a conversation over coffee, occasionally glancing at John in a grateful manner as he managed to keep the two young girls enthused with teddy bears.

I remembered when he had done the same for me and Lily, offering us colouring books and jigsaws to complete on a table in the corner during the long summer holidays.

I watched John and the girls affectionately as Paulie prepared the sundaes, willing in my heart that their latest plea to adopt a child would pass through. They’d been trying for years, and would make better parents than half the couples in this town; maybe more.

They were partly responsible for the reason I’d turned out relatively normal, due to my completely unstable home situation. Growing up with them, I saw absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t raise a family, and it had taken until I reached my teenage years to realise the type of ridiculous controversy this usually caused.

The sundaes were brought out and I beckoned for Maisie to join me on the counter top as I had a complete disregard for the formality of tables and chairs, and yet she stood awkwardly leaning on it as she spooned up a scoop of ice cream and sauce, licking it inquisitively before eagerly going in for a second scoop. “This is really good,” she said, as I popped the cherry of my serving into my mouth and smiled as Paulie crossed his arms proudly.

“How come you’re not in school, Lulu?” he asked, nudging me slightly. He and John were the only people ever permitted to call me that absurd nickname. It just sounded right coming from them, and stupidly childish when issued from anyone else. Still, I felt Maisie’s confused gaze on me as I did not call him up on it, and regretted bringing her to the café a little.

“I was up late last night driving; I visited Cody at college,” I said.

“Aw, is he doing well?” asked John, overhearing the conversation and leaving the girls as they continued to role play with the toys contently.

“Yeah, he’s great actually,” I said, beaming in a way I only ever did when mentioning my best friend.

“Cody Jackman?” asked Maisie, pausing with her spoon halfway to her mouth. I nodded. “You’re still in contact with him?”

“We became close after everything that happened,” I said.

“Close or close close?” Maisie asked inquiringly, raising an eyebrow.

“Just close,” I snapped, getting partly annoyed as I always did when people insinuated me and Cody were in any way romantic. The topic was closed after my abrupt reply, and Paulie moved back to reprimanding me on ditching the majority of afternoon school. For the most part, Maisie was left out of the conversation, left to search for remaining chocolate chips amongst the melted mess, which I was pleased about. She needed to learn to eat it faster.

An hour later, the café began to fill up with customers, and I said goodbye to John and Paulie, Maisie following me as I left. “Well, bye then,” I said, turning to leave.

“Wait!” Maisie said, grabbing me by the wrist, her face beginning to screw up a little. “Can’t you keep me company?”

“I’m really tired, Maisie. Maybe one of your friends can do that?” I said, becoming a little agitated at her sudden fascination with me. Like she now thought she’d gone through enough trauma to relate to what I’d experienced, and we could share our thoughts as we braided each other’s hair and watched movies. It wasn’t going to happen.

“I guess,” Maisie said, shoulders slumping as I smiled in reply to her. “It’s just so embarrassing,” she mumbled, just coherently enough for me to make out, but I didn’t want to say anything back.

“Well this was fun! See you tomorrow,” I said, turning away from her and walking quickly down the road away from the girl who had never paid any attention to me before this week.

I couldn’t help but notice, however, as I went to turn the corner and stole a glance back at her, that she hadn’t moved from outside the café entrance. She was frozen, staring off into the distance, completely lost in the world. It was a state I was all too familiar with and, just as I’d done on our last encounter, I continuing walking.

I didn’t have time for Maisie Hornet’’s problems; I’d only just come to terms with my own. Maybe she could get her director-daddy to hire a therapist to coddle her through the break-up; whatever she chose, I didn’t want any part in it. 

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