Pompeii: Buried in Regret

Tessa Rue is an ordinary girl with an ordinary life. That is, until problems at home interfere. From then on, Tessa finds herself filling with resentment until there's no room for any other emotion. Once a sunny little girl, she grows to be the sulky girl in the back of the room who tries not to interact with anyone. When a kind-hearted boy befriends her, Tessa doesn't know if she can clear away her bitterness. Will the burden of the past be too much for her to carry?

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1. Pompeii: Buried in Regret

          His lips moved slowly, as if each word delivered a blow to his soul. “I protected you before,” he said, “but I can’t do it again. It’s not...it’s not the same. It’s not right. I’m sorry. This is the end of the road for me—for us.”

          Tessa donned her indifferent mask and nodded, punching him lightly on the arm. “I understand,” she said easily. She ambled away before her tears fell, leaving Liam to stare at her back wordlessly.

          She collapsed two minutes later, sobbing without sound or tears. Times like this were too often. Much too often.

Her feet found a path of their own, stumbling into the alleys and over the fences, down the familiar road. Tessa looked up and a burst of distorted pain hit her gut as she realized that she had arrived at Liam’s house—her former refuge. Blindly, she ran. Away.

          It had always been like this. Always pushing others away, always increasing the pain, always running away from her past, always feeling buried under her regrets. Never knowing if it would ever change. She kept going through the patterns, which always left her with another layer of bubbling bitterness to suppress. The question was: how long could she suppress it? How long could she go without exploding from holding it all in?

          The next thing Tessa was aware of was sitting on a swing at the park she used to go to when she was little. It had all started here, Tessa recalled numbly.

          Her past dripped from her mind into her eyes, until it seemed that she was living it again. Each disappointment was punctuated with a single word: Regret.

           She began to swing, dangling her legs…

 

          It was a cloudy day, the kind that makes you want to pretend it’s sunny—at least, that was how it was for Tessa. She was merely six, and she wanted ice cream.

          “She already had a cookie after lunch,” her mother’s tired face darkened.

          “Let her have a scoop. Look, there’s a parlor not far. I’ll take her out. My treat,” Daddy coaxed.

          Tessa pumped her legs on the swing, pretending not to listen. They were at the park and hadn’t been there long, but something told Tessa that the peaceful atmosphere would soon be severely disrupted. Regret.

          Her mother’s eyebrows rocketed into her mousy bangs. “Your treat? Really? If I remember correctly, we share a bank account and there isn’t much left in it since you splurged on new golf clubs.”

          “Hmmmm…” Daddy drummed his fingers on his leg. “Well, it certainly wasn’t me who bought those expensive pumps last weekend…”

          Their argument erupted into a huge shouting match. It hadn’t been the first full-blown disagreement Tessa had witnessed, but it was by far the worst.

          Four days later, Daddy left home in the middle of the night. Tessa had no hope of ever seeing him again.

          An abandoned wife, Tessa’s mother fell into deep depression. Regret. The two scraped by with what meager savings they had and what little financial aid Tessa’s father sent in the mail.

          Meanwhile, Tessa’s grades plummeted. Her bright smile faded into an ever-present scowl. At the age of eight, she stole a cell phone, simply for the cheer exhilaration. The stunts got more extreme as time passed, but her mother never noticed. Tessa’s group of friends melted away, embarrassed to be seen with someone so dark and rebellious. Regret.

          Acts of such open disobedience caused a number of run-ins with authoritative figures, but she learned to remain apathetic with everyone. Remaining distant not only let Tessa hide in her shell, it let the others paint a perfect picture of a guarded juvenile criminal. Regret.

          By the time she entered high school, it was common knowledge that Tessa was a troublemaker. The kids knew that she wasn’t someone to mess with and didn’t try to get close; the staff assumed that she wouldn’t earn even mediocre grades; no one attempted to help, guessing that their offer would be refused.

          They were all wrong, and yet, they were right.

          Tessa wasn’t someone to mess with, but she felt isolated by their gazes that slid over her. Even if they had wanted Tessa as a friend, she would have pushed them away without a second thought. She didn’t earn even mediocre grades; however, she could have been at the top of the class if she tried. An offer of assistance would have been turned down, but that didn’t mean that she didn’t need it. Regret.

          In her sophomore year, Tessa hunted down the kids that had dropped out of school. They gathered in a pack at the corner of the neighborhood. After two month of wary glances and untrusting eyes, she was accepted. With these delinquents, her daring escalated. It wasn’t long before she was caught vandalizing the high school.

          A week’s suspension, three months’ worth of detention (added on to the detention she already had racked up from previous minor acts of defiance), and a fee for the paint used to hide the spray paint on the wall.

          But Tessa didn’t seem to care. Regret.

          She threw herself into schoolwork, swallowed by the masses of students and drowned in the shouts of teachers. Though she continued to blatantly ignore the homework and the classwork that was assigned, Tessa resolved to at least try her best when it came to tests.

          Two weeks after her resolution, she was accused of cheating.

          The intercom crackled during math: “Please send Theresa Rue down to the front office.”

          All heads slowly turned towards her and silence filled the room. Gulping, Tessa made her way to the specified location.

          The secretary there narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips. “You know where his office is. Go. He’s waiting.”

          For the first time, Tessa opened the principal’s door with nervousness instead of boredom. “Hello?”

          “Have a seat,” the principal intoned listlessly. “I’m afraid this is good-bye.”

          “What are you talking about? School doesn’t end for months!”

          His eyes squinted at her. “Now, Tessa. I think we’re past the point of denial.”

          “I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be denying!”

          He sighed. “Kyle Masons reported that he saw you with a piece of paper during the history final. He said that you were copying off of it. Seeing as your test score was abnormal and considering your record here at Kingsbury High, this is the last straw.”

          Slowly, Tessa understood. “You can’t just—you can’t expel me!”

          “But I can,” the principal shrugged. “And I warned you last time: I most certainly will.”

          “You have to believe me!” the girl scrambled to her feet. “I’m innocent! I tried my best on that test, I really did! I didn’t cheat!”

          “He did say one thing…that you put your cheat sheet in your backpack.” He picked up the phone. “If you truly didn’t cheat, then this will be the test…hello? Can you send someone down to the front office with Tessa’s backpack? Thanks.” He set the phone down. “Now we wait.”

          His eyes bored into hers, trying to find the truth. Unnerved, she avoided his steady gaze. Suddenly, he looked up and crossed the room to open the door and pick up Tessa’s sorry excuse of a backpack. Tessa noticed the deliverer’s curious peek inside before Mr. Principal shut the door.

          He tossed the rumpled sack onto her lap. “Empty it.”

          Tessa shook out the sack. A worn pair of notebooks, some paper, scratched-up pencils…and a white piece of paper. She unfolded it with dread. Typed, it said:

A A 1947-1991 D Joseph Stalin C A D B

          On and on it went. The principal silently handed her the test that she had taken, with all her answers. They matched exactly.

          “You can’t…I promise you…” Even to her own ears, Tessa’s voice sounded weak.

          “Consider yourself expelled from Kingsbury High,” he said firmly, and spun around to type on a computer. The conversation was obviously over.

          As if in a dream, Tessa gathered up her belongings and walked away. It was just another coat of sourness to add on to her never-ending list of mistakes.

          She took her time shuffling home. Her mother wouldn’t notice her expulsion in the slightest. The woman was too far gone in the quicksand of depression, and Tessa knew it.

          “Hey!” a voice called from behind. “Hey, wait up!”

          Tessa stopped her trudging to let the person catch up. She didn’t turn, but out of the corner of her eye, she recognized the boy. He was good-looking and one of those guys that always held the door open for girls; not to attract them, but out of genuine politeness.

          “What.” It wasn’t a question. It was an acknowledgement.

          “Well…hi. I’m Liam,” he introduced himself, and held out his hand to shake.

          Tessa stared at it warily. “I know who you are. You’re in my history class.”

          Seeing that he wasn’t going to get a shake, Liam smiled and clasped his hands. “Good. Okay, well, I needed to talk to you about the cheating thing.”

          “The cheating thing,” Tessa repeated. “What about it?”

          “I know you didn’t cheat. I saw. I saw Kyle Masons cheat, and he shoved the evidence in your backpack.”

          Tessa paused. “Oh.”

          “That’s it? Someone framed you for cheating and you got expelled, but all you say is: ‘Oh.’”

          “What do you want me to say?”

          “Something that shows emotion!”

          “If you want drama, you’re looking at the wrong girl.”

          Liam shoved her. “What’s wrong with you?”

          Tessa glared at him. “Nothing.”

          “Apparently everything,” he said, half-joking.

          It was Tessa’s turn to shove him, if a bit teasingly. “Shut up.”

          He turned serious. “Look, I’m going to explain everything first thing tomorrow to the principal. Get it all sorted out.”

          She didn’t say anything for a long time. “Why?”

          “What?”

          “Why would you do this for me? For a person that couldn’t be more different than you? I mean, c’mon! You’re running for class president this year, right? And I’m…I’m nobody!” Tessa cried out.

          “Because I believe that you can be different. You have a choice, Tessa. But only you can decide it.”

          The words echoed in her ears long after they had departed from his lips.

          Tessa’s expulsion was lifted and the principal apologized profusely. Kyle Masons was suspended for a while. Meanwhile, Tessa and Liam became very good friends, and after a while, more than friends. They held each other up and Tessa learned to trust. Regret.

          Tessa helped out with Liam’s presidential campaign and when he won, they began the tradition of having a picnic dinner every Wednesday night. Liam’s influence convinced the teachers to pay more attention to Tessa, when before they treated her like a wall. It seemed like after such a very steep decline in her life, Tessa was finally climbing.

          Then Tessa’s father returned.

          It was sudden, but Tessa knew that word had finally reached him of her mother’s condition. Guilt was all that brought him back. And Tessa hated him for it. His presence made her hostile and she blamed him for everything. Rage boiled under the surface, always foaming. Regret. It was Liam who especially saw the change in Tessa.

          “Are you okay?” he asked repeatedly.

          The answer never changed: “Same as always.” But she never looked him in the eye.

          The old patterns resurfaced. Her grades plunged and she began to hang out with the dropout kids again. Only Liam stayed loyal, but he began to get wary of her actions. Regret.

          “Don’t fade back into the old Tessa,” he begged once. “Stay with me.”

          “I can’t,” she whispered.

          She submerged so deeply into her former habits that she couldn’t surface. Regret.

          She stole a car from the school parking lot. Regret.

          It happened to be Liam’s. Regret.

          She had gone too far. Regret. Regret. Regret.

          Regret. Regret. Regret. Regret. Regret. Regret. Regret. Regret.

 

          She came back to herself on the playground, buried in remorse. Liam was gone. Her mother, in a way, was gone. It seemed like everything was gone.

          Too many mistakes. Too many “how could I have done that?”s.

          Her internal volcano was frothing with resentment. She couldn’t suppress it anymore. Too much resentment. Too much fear.

          It exploded, leaving Tessa to be entombed in regrets.

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