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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6. Chapter Six

 

“So let me get this straight, the bitchiest girl in the school is paying for you, the unsociable bookworm, to talk to her?” Cody said in shock. I pressed the phone closer to my ear, grinning.

“Across the internet, so I don’t even have to conceal my true facial expressions,” I added.

“Ah, you and your facial expressions,” he said, and I giggled. “I don’t know if I prefer this line of attack to you shamelessly flirting with guys to help other girls out or not.”

“It’s definitely easier, and more amusing,” I added, and I could almost hear Cody roll his eyes submissively.

“Well you have to tell me what sort of things she says, okay?”

“Cody! That goes against my confidentiality agreement!” I said sarcastically, in a shocked tone, and heard Cody let out an energetic laugh.

“Aren’t you also supposed to be purely anonymous?”

“About that…” I said, laughing together.

“I’ve got to go now; college paper calls and I only have two cans of Red Bull to carry me through until morning. Talk soon, yeah?”

“Yeah,” I said, smiling, and we hung up simultaneously as I lay back on my pillow, suddenly noticing the ache of my cheeks from being pulled outward for an abnormally long length of time.

We’d been talking for just over an hour. I hadn’t been able to get to sleep after my power nap late afternoon, so had decided to call Cody in the hope he’d be pulling one of his many all-nighters to complete an assignment, which, to my delight, he was.

It was gone one in the morning and I was lying on my bed drinking caffeinated coffee I’d managed to make whilst concurrently resting my phone between my cheek and shoulder and keeping up a conversation. One of my prouder moments of the day.

I knew the drink would do nothing to bring on my much-needed sleep, but Cody had messed up my sleep pattern once and he was doing it again. He was also worth it. As insane as my life was becoming – dealing with Dad being home and Maisie suddenly taking a shine to me – I needed those chats with Cody to keep me as abnormal as he was.

Plus, when I was talking to him, though he was my one direct, remaining link to Lily, it was the only time I ever truly forgot, and as selfish as it seemed to want to forget her. I relished those times, when life suddenly seemed to slip back into place, before it was all thrown back into confusion again as the conversations drew to a close. Cody had saved me at a time when he too had needed saving, and I was now willing to sacrifice anything to ensure I never lost him from my life.

Including sleep.

*

The next day at school left me feeling suitably guilty for what I’d said to Cody the night before on the phone. Whispers spread around home room, as always, and I paid little attention, as always, but could no longer remain oblivious when little Holly at Cheer kept me up to date on the gossip as always.

“Did you hear?”

“You know my answer is going to be no, so just hit me with it,” I said as I stretched my calves.

“Maisie used that Anonymous Town Whore service to find out if Brody was cheating on her! It wasn’t Vanessa who saw him at the party and told her!”

My stomach dropped, as I remembered all Maisie had said about her slowly degrading reputation at the school. Everyone knew any association with the personal service was like social suicide; it was admitting you needed help. If it wasn’t me running it, I’d wonder how it could possibly keep going with the complete lack of respect it appeared to have, when in reality I received requests almost every other day.

But the point of the service, as was in the name, was that it remained anonymous. You didn’t tell anyone, so it remained a trustworthy source of information. Maisie, however horrid she’d been, did not deserve that kind of public humiliation. This was combined with the fact I knew Vanessa was the one who had cheated with Brody, and now she’d shared information given in confidence by her supposed friend. I was developing a real dislike for the girl, and a want to breach my own confidentiality agreement just to shame her in turn.

Maisie did not show up to practice. When Coach Belle asked Vanessa where she was, she simply shrugged before sharing a smirk with Lydia and Candice, who I’d also presumed were part of Maisie’s chosen few friends; a high honour, indeed. I guess, when I actually paid attention to what was going on in school rather than what lay inside the temptingly promising pages of a paperback, Stornham High was pretty messed up and complicated.

I found Maisie where she seemed to have taken up permanent residence lately; in the girls’ bathroom, sitting on one of the sink units, half changed into her Cheer uniform, and staring blindly at the floor.

“Hey,” I said, as I approached her, and she looked up suddenly, body jolting as if she’d been paused all this time.

“Oh, hi,” she said, her voice dry.

“How long have you been here?” I asked nervously.

“Well, what’s the time now?”

“Lunch is just finishing.”

“Well then, about two hours. I can’t face anyone,” she said, staring at her manicured nails which showed signs of chips and biting. “I can’t even cope with this. I’m just going to get my director-daddy to fly me out to LA to stay with him for a bit. I need the sun to cheer me up.”

“Or maybe you could just have a movie night instead?” She looked over at me as she brushed down her skirt, eyes bloodshot from crying. “It’s probably a bit cheaper than going away, and if you do go, it’ll just make coming back even harder. You don’t want to stay away too long. Trust me.”

I didn’t know why my Internet responsibilities were translating into my everyday life, but for some reason I felt pity for this girl, and the fact that she was paying me because she was so mistrusting of everybody made me feel sorry for her, and I didn’t like that. I wanted to help her, so I could stop feeling that way.

“Come back to mine on Friday night. We can grab a movie, have some popcorn and sweets…”

“I’d love to,” Maisie said, wiping her eyes. “Thanks.” And then, without any warning, Maisie Hornet threw her arms around me, let out an excitable squeal and left the bathroom, leaving me standing there stunned and late for my session with Mr Darcy and co.

*

Friday morning dawned and my stomach churned as I passed Maisie in the corridor, who kept her head down at all times other than when she went to smile at me. I’d prepared snacks and plenty of films to choose from but that still didn’t change the fact I was inviting her to my small, cramped, disorderly house, in stark comparison to her specifically designed mansion, complete with a luxurious drive and trees planted periodically along it as well as a fountain at the very end. I’d been there once for a party to complete a request for a client and it had been effort enough walking down to the front door, let alone locating my target.

Me and Maisie both had Geography the lesson before lunch, and I made a strategic move as the end of lesson bell announced our hour of freedom to dodge around the desks as quickly as possible and sprint out the door. I couldn’t handle spending another lunch time with her in the cafeteria like the day before; I needed to read and listen to my music in peace. Maisie liked to talk a lot, but she managed to ask enough questions to ensure you were actually listening to her. I also couldn’t shake the feeling everyone kept glancing over at our table and wondering why we were sitting together.

I went up to the study suite the math club had occupied many years ago. I’d become friends with them and, once I’d earned their trust, they’d showed me their exclusive hideout which was the real reason they’d bargained their way towards the stuffy room you had to walk three flights of stairs to reach.

If you stood on the desk located specifically in the middle and stretched your arms out to their full extent, you could just about open the sun-view window and pull yourself up. From there, you were free to perch in the middle of the roof, though nobody else could see you were there due to the fact the surrounding parts of the school all had higher walls. You were boxed in enough to feel secure and yet free enough to be comfortable in your own mind.

It was the perfect place for me, and I’d not once regretted the decision to befriend Alfie and his group. We had an additional arrangement that if they did my Math homework - which took them approximately five minutes due to the fact I was in the penultimate bottom set - I’d check their essays over.

I headed there immediately, armed with my latest book from the library to tear through to my heart’s content, saying ‘hi’ to all the math guys enthusiastically, who returned the greeting before Alfie quickly jumped to open the sun-view window for me as I scrambled up onto the desk. As I pushed myself through and walked calmly over to my favourite spot where my legs could dangle over a small gap, I immediately felt the cool wind relax me. I sat down and became lost for the duration of the hour, occasionally pausing to eat my pasta pot I’d brought in from home, having pre-planned my escape from Maisie that day.

Did I feel bad for abandoning her? Slightly, but she was interrupting my Friday night of Ben and Jerry’s, and web-surfing – I’d decided to go against serving ice cream that evening for fear she’d realise my unusual addiction for it. I’d planned the evening so exactly to ensure minimum awkwardness, and was confident as I began to prepare myself to go back to lessons, that it would not be too bad now I’d had this time off from socialising.

Then, my phone began buzzing in my pocket and I withdrew it to see Cody’s name flashing. “Hello?”

“Hey, Lou! Guess what?”

“What?” I said, tapping on the sun view window so Alfie would re-open it for me to slip back through.

“I’m coming home for the weekend! I’m about an hour away, and I’ll come pick up you up after school okay?”

“Wait, you’re coming now?” My heart rate began to increase.

“Yeah…what’s wrong with that? You told me I needed to take my turn doing the travelling, remember?” I gulped.

“Yeah, I did say that. Erm…okay, yeah! I’ll see you then! Can’t wait!” I said, forcing excitement into my tone.

“Okay, bye Lou!” He hung up and I then dropped back through to the room with such force that it depicted my rapid change in mood in the space of a few seconds.

I was going to have to stand up Maisie Hornet, and let her down, cancelling the plans that had kept her from fleeing the district in shame for the past couple days.

In any other situation, I would most probably go with helping Maisie, but this was Cody, my best friend. We never knew how long and far apart our encounters with each other would be. His schedule fluctuated from free and luxurious to tragically busy in the space of a few days. I would not let this opportunity pass for a girl who hadn’t spoken more than ten words to me since before this week.

I anxiously searched for Maisie between fourth and fifth period, but did not manage to locate her, and sat nervously in my last lesson as they clock ticked its way round far too quickly. If it hadn’t been for Maisie, I’d have been desperate for the hour to pass by within seconds, and then I could be reunited with Cody, but now the arrival of half past three signalled the time I’d have to tell Maisie I wasn’t able to go through with our arrangement.

I was going to seem, to her, like the bitch I’d thought she was for the past two years of high school, but I simply could not think about that. This girl would not dampen the fact I was about to spend the entire weekend with my favourite person in the whole world.

And yet the guilt at what I was about to do as the bell rung to release us at the end of the day grew exponentially until the point where I saw Maisie standing by the front doors, waving energetically to catch my attention and clutching a small overnight bag from Louis Vuitton. It was time to send this girl into a more crippling state than she currently resided in. Wow, I didn’t know I was capable of being that mean. 

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