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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3. Chapter Three

 

Gemma and Adam walked hand in hand together in front of me on the short walk to school on Monday morning. I tried to suppress a slight smirk at the thought that the person who had cemented their relationship, the well-guarded, unknown secret of our school, was standing right behind them, trying to decide if her skirt was too short to be deemed acceptable.

I made my way to home room where I sat in my usual corner seat, withdrawing the novel I’d taken out from the library Saturday afternoon, but was interrupted mid-flow by Jake Ringer, obnoxious football player, who said the book looked way too complicated for him to understand. I was a little confused by his tactic; knocking himself down to make me look good, but I had no intention of going out with him anyway though made polite conversation – I’d heard Sasha Ball had her eye on him, and I’d helped her with her last long-term relationship with Nick Parker. He’d moved districts so technically my prediction that they’d work well together hadn’t been false, they just couldn’t cope without doing it every weekend.

The bell signalled my escape from Jake, and I rushed out towards first period English, eager to become involved in Elizabeth Bennett’s love life rather than my own; fictitious relationships were always more enjoyable anyway, because you didn’t have to deal with them post-happy ever after, when all the difficulties of reality came into play.  

I’d almost forgotten about the reply I’d sent off to Maisie over the weekend about Brody, as to me it had just been another successfully completed assignment, but was reminded instantly of the revelations I’d made as I arrived at Cheer practice where she was standing in the middle of the football pitch, screaming at what I assumed was a taken-aback, recently ex-boyfriend.

Brody defensively crossed his arms over his padded chest as Maisie rose up on tiptoe, causing her toned leg muscles to pop out threateningly. Her blonde hair flew wildly around her face as her top rose up to expose her flat stomach, pulsing as she took deep breaths between allegations, and everyone all around was silent, watching the idealistic, power couple of the school crumble. And Vanessa stood to the side, head down, cheeks flaming.

“Okay, break it up, break it up!” called Coach Belle, running onto the field towards her star, Maisie, grabbing her by the shoulders and pulling her to one side as Maisie continued to yell at the top of our lungs, “I thought we were forever! Forever! That’s what you promised me when we started doing that stuff!”

“Calm down,” Coach Belle said firmly, taking her to the side before slamming down on the stereo system so energetic, optimistic music blasted out to the stands. “Warm up and shut your ears, ladies,” she said, peering round at all of us who avidly began stretching. Coach Belle was our friend most of the time; she was young, blonde, and slim and had a hot boyfriend she loved to tell us stories about – she was like most of the cheerleaders really. She was also really good at her job, but when we didn’t do what she wanted, she got really mad. Even Maisie obeyed her every word.

“Did you hear?” asked Holly amidst the music. Holly was the smallest, youngest and least intolerable member of the team, and so had become the one I most liked. She relished her connection to the older years through me and I liked learning the gossip on her year’s couples for my business; information she unintentionally gave away.

“About what?” I asked.

“About what happened with Maisie! Vanessa said she saw him go upstairs with a girl from another school. He cheated on Maisie!” she said, her circular blue eyes widening as if she were hearing the news for the first time.

“Is that what you heard?” I said, raising an eyebrow as I looked over at Vanessa, innocently sitting in the splits though a lot quieter than was normal.

Ten minutes later Maisie’s hair was drawn back from her face and though her cheeks were tear stained, her eyes were dry, and now simply appeared cold and emotionless. The best way to deal with heart break was to just not deal with it; suppress it until you hit your pillow at night. I’d learnt that over time.

Once we got going, it was a good session going over chants and a few routines for the upcoming games before we all hit the locker rooms to change back into our normal clothes; despite what Glee showed, cheerleaders do not wear their uniforms all day.

Of course everyone huddled round Maisie asking if she was okay with Vanessa at the forefront which just made me feel sick to my stomach as I couldn’t reveal what I knew. The room was emptying out as girls finished touching up their makeup and stuffing their gym bags away until it was just me and Maisie left, who was applying thick layers of concealer around her eyes that only made them look worse.

“That’ll only make it stand out more,” I found myself saying, unable to watch her make a mess of her face any longer. She looked across at me, a little shocked, before turning back to the mirror and appearing to see her reflection for the first time, letting out a sad, broken laugh as she grabbed wipes from her bag and began to smudge the damage away. If only it was so easy to remove pain.

“Thanks,” she said, humbly.

“No problem,” I replied, lining my lips carefully.

There was a short, silent pause before Maisie stuttered, “I guess you have experience with that? You know, covering up…crying?” We both looked at each other for a few seconds before I nodded. She’d touched a topic that was typically avoided by the school populous. What had occurred in my freshman year had become a tabooed subject.

“Yeah, you could say that,” I replied, running my fingers through my hair to restore its volume.

“I never got the chance to say sorry. For all that happened with…her,” Maisie said, biting her lip. She’d had plenty of opportunities to express her condolences; she’d just chosen not to. However, better late than never was what Lily had always taught me with regards to completing her homework and also meeting me at the mall. Lily.

“Thanks,” I said, the word coming out feebler than I’d imagined it in my head. I’d finished getting ready now but the conversation didn’t seem to have reached that position. However, the afternoon bell had rung so I was already late to class, and muttered, “See you tomorrow at practice,” to Maisie, and she nodded, forcing a smile. As I walked away and around the corner, I heard her exhale and the sobbing began again; the desperate kind. She must have known I wasn’t yet out of earshot and it was an evident cry for help. And yet I kept on walking, driven by the concept that nobody had helped me when I’d needed it, whilst my conscience avidly told me – I’d never asked for it.

*

The day was considerably brightened by the fact that, at lunch as I sat at the “cool kids” table, oblivious to whatever pointless conversation they were engaing in, I received a text from Cody, simply stating;

Free for the rest of the day. Come see me if you like. C.

I grinned as I text back almost immediately;

Be there as soon as I can. L.

Fourth period Math dragged by uneventfully until the bell rung, signalling my release due to the fact I had fifth off to study. I grabbed my car keys from my pocket, slotting them in to place and turning on my IPod connected to the speaker system as I raced down the roads and out of town, content with the idea I’d see Cody again before sundown.

Cody was Lily’s brother, and when he’d left to go to college a couple of months earlier, I’d felt for a period that I could never be happy again. Unfortunately for me, this was a state I’d experienced before, and knew that, eventually, gradually, I’d regain that sensation of living without really contributing.

I soared past various drive-ins and cafes as my stomach grumbled for a break, though I continued onward, reminding myself how good a cook Cody was, and if he was feeling lazy, the surrounding restaurants on campus were better than anything my own school canteen served on a daily basis.

The skyline began to sink gracefully until the clouds as I entered the right district, and a slight sense of pride filled me. I’d only made the journey three times before, and the first time I had become catastrophically lost in such a way that Cody had to come meet me as I bawled desperately into my phone as I looked around and saw nothing for miles and miles. Cody had found it hilarious.

I turned into the campus car park eventually and started walking towards Cody’s dorm, checking his room number on my phone as my breath began to travel quickly through my lungs, the suspense building as I tried to calmly walk up the stairs and down corridors before breaking into a slight run and finally reaching number 47, hammering on the door which immediately opened.

We threw our arms around each other and he picked me up, spinning me back and forth round his tiny, cupboard sized room, bed wedged in one corner and extending until the point where the door swung open. A simplistic desk rested against the opposite door with enough space between the bed’s edge for a chair to be placed which my dangling legs knocked against. It was cramped and cute and I loved coming here. It felt right, and I was excited for next year when I’d have a room like this of my own.

When we eventually pulled away from each other, I noted how Cody’s mop of blonde hair had grown even messier. He was wearing the sort of clothes he’d been wearing for years, only this time, they actually fit him properly, and I noticed as he lifted his arms to stretch the slight of exposure of abs peeked out from beneath his t-shirt.

But the most noticeable thing of all was his eyes, large and blue. They’d always been his best feature but since my last visit a visible light had been restored to them that had been missing for years.

“How are you? You look good!” he said enthusiastically.

“So do you!” I replied, with equal fervour, and we hugged once more, squeezing into each other until we had no choice but to let go. My stomach let out a final groan of protest and Cody raised his eyebrows, grinning.

“You’ve turned into one of those girls who never eats anything but salad since I’ve been away then?” he said, and I jokingly punched him in the stomach as he squirmed playfully.

“No chance, I just haven’t eaten since lunch; I’ve been driving! And next time, you’re coming to see me, okay?” He shrugged, and I went to punch him again before he raised his hands in submission.

“Of course, of course,” he said, and I smiled happily back at him. “Now let’s go get you some good food!” By good food, this meant Cody introducing me to the local diner which all the students piled into before and after football games, and just that told me the meals would not exactly be gourmet. I sampled one of their messy burgers and cheesy fries, and Cody watched in hysterics as they delivered the mammoth-sized meal from the sizzling kitchen, clapping his hands in appreciation as I attempted to manoeuvre my mouth around the bun in order to take a bite.

It was like I could physically taste the calories piling into the body I had to work so hard to perfect, due to the fact I went out in a skimpy uniform every other Friday night to cheer. The grease squelched out of the pores of the burger as I applied pressure, and the cheese pulled away begrudgingly from the plate. I knew exactly what Coach Belle would think if she were to see me now, but I didn’t care, because it was delicious.

Despite how good it tasted, I could only manage half, with Cody wolfing down the rest with ease, explaining he hadn’t ordered a meal from the knowledge I wouldn’t finish my own, so this saved him paying for one. I mocked an expression of shock on my face as he confessed this, before he withdrew a five dollar bill from his pocket and slammed it down confidently on the table, winking.

We talked and talked across the table, gushing all that had happened in the past few weeks as if we’d been suppressed of speech up until this point, and when the diner staff asked us to leave as they needed the table, we continued to chatter as we slowly walked back to his room, comfortable in each other’s presence. Anyone looking on would think we were boyfriend and girlfriend, but the love we held for each other, though undeniably deep, would never be anything more than unbreakable friendship.

Unfortunately, the night darkened, and I was forced to realise if I didn’t leave soon, I wouldn’t be home much before daybreak. Cody chauffeured me back to my car where we were entangled in one final hug, knowing it would be the last for a long few weeks. And then I slipped into the front seat of my old, second hand car, slipped the key into the ignition once more and felt the vehicle thrum underneath me as I prepared to depart.

I watched Cody in my front mirror, standing there with his hands tucked slightly into his pockets, for as long as I could, not daring to tear my eyes away for a second, trying to mentally note everything about him before he became a minute dash in my view. And then I turned the corner, away from the only person who was capable of making me feel happy anymore, and drove back to the daily emptiness and pain I’d been enduring ever since that day Lily had finally left both of us. 

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