The sky was blue despite the freezing cold air, which allowed puffs of steam visible as people exhaled. Students moved fast through the hallways when the final bell rang, rejoicing with their friends on the sidewalks that aligned Cameron High School. Belle’s constant goose bumps were an indication of her getting used to cold weather, which wasn’t exactly a common occurrence in California. She however enjoyed the cold because she was always too pale to wear shorts, despite her old environment being drenched in continuous rays of sun.
“Belle!” She heard a light voice shout from a distance away. Belle spun, her eyes landing on Frannie, who waved her over excitedly.
As she approached, she recognized the faces that Frannie was standing with. Victoria, Jordan, Dex and Maxus were chatting nonchalantly, their words allowing the cold air to highlight their breaths. They must have been a loyal collection of friends for a long time, each member branching out with various other friends, but always coming back to the same group. Belle could tell by the way they spoke to each other, full of playful nudges and jokes. She wished she could be that way with her friends.
“Guys, you remember Belle.” Francesca tucked her arm with Belle’s as she re-introduced her to the small crowd. Jordan’s eyes grew wide with amusing excitement while Dex glanced from Jordan to Belle, his reaction confused.
“Ah yes, the saucy blonde maiden from Saturday,” Jordan smiled wickedly as he said this, his choice of words leaving Belle uncomfortable.
“Well,” Dex intervened, “I don’t know who you are, but you’re right Jordan, she is rather saucy.”
“You had passed out before you could meet her,” Victoria informed. Belle was amused at the way Dex nodded placidly with this new information, as if it was such a normal occurrence. She enjoyed is serenity.
“Belle,” Francesca addressed, “we’re all going to the Lasker Ice rink in Central Park. Please go,” she implored with puppy dog eyes, pouting her lip slightly. Why would she want Belle’s company so much? It’s not like she was fun to have around, and judging by Frannie’s current group of friends, she didn’t need anyone else.
But at the thought of agreement, Belle’s heart quickened; it was a school day. She couldn’t possibly go out on a school day, especially with a group of people who were probably annoyed at the sight of her. Did they usually hangout after school on a week day? The thought gave her a mental shudder.
“Um… I don’t know.” She didn’t want to say no right away, that would make them dislike her even more. Maybe she could play it off; lie about a doctor’s appointment or something.
“Oh common,” Maxus remarked, enhancing the last word, “it’s not like we’re going streaking down eighth avenue or something… although that would be-”
“Right,” Francesca put her hand in Maxus’s face playfully in attempt to stop him as he cowered back, “just go. You’ll have fun, I promise.”
Belle was about to refuse; amidst their talking she was conjuring up a clever way to decline without receiving judgment. But a thought far back in the depths of her mind had stopped her. She did want to make friends, which would most likely help her break out of her darkly barricaded shell. She knew deep down it was the best way, and thought maybe to look at going out with these people in a new perspective. She had taken her pills this morning, and possibly with a few more, she could last at the ice rink. It will be fun, she told herself, very fun.
The group had taken a taxi to get to Central Park; Francesca, Victoria, and Belle in one car whilst Jordan, Dex, and Maxus rode in the other. Frannie and Victoria were a chatty couple, and the action was all they did as they went forth down the busy streets. Belle had considered multiple times to intervene while she listened to their quirky conversations, but thought better. She would only sound stupid.
“Belle, you’re too quiet,” Victoria said as if she suddenly recalled her presence.
“Maybe we’re just too loud and annoying for her to get a word in edgewise,” Frannie suggested. Out of the corner of her eye, Belle thought she saw the taxi driver nod.
“You’re right,” Victoria said, pointing at Francesca as a response for her accuracy. “How do you get your hair so long and sleek, Belle? I have to straighten mine like every morning before it even looks-”
“Oh shut the fuck up,” Francesca cut her off, rolling her eyes, “If I hear you complain about your hair one more time I’ll rip the whole thing out and buy you a wig.”
The two laughed, and Belle couldn’t help but laugh with them. They continued to chat as the yellow cab edged nearer to the park. Belle looked out the window the whole time, appreciating the tall buildings with their glossy windows and smooth concrete structures. Mild excitement reverberated through her as she thought about Central Park, a place she’s only seen so many pictures of. Soon enough her view became a bundle of vibrant green trees. As the car advanced, a black metal gate appeared, leading to the Lasker Ice Rink.
The boys had already arrived at the venue by the time the three pulled up, and were waiting casually as the girls stepped out of the car. The group bought their tickets and slipped on their ice skates, the activities involving bent-over laughs and stumbling as they adjusted to their new shoes.
It wasn’t until then, as Belle was tying on her dirty worn-out skates, that she realized she didn’t know how to ice skate. California had ice rinks, but she never went. She also never considered herself as the athletic type, even if it was something as simple as skating with friends to have a good laugh. Her heart began to pick up, a typical reaction for her when her anxiety levels increased. She had to tell someone; she couldn’t just go out there and make a fool of herself with all of these people watching.
But what would Francesca and her friends think? They couldn’t even invite her out with them for something as uncomplicated as this without having a difficulty.
“Frannie,” Belle addressed her quietly, so quietly that it was a miracle Francesca had even heard her.
“What’s up, girl?”
She hesitated before saying: “I can’t skate.” Her voice shook, cheeks glowing red.
Francesca watched her for a moment, as if trying to understand why she was getting so embarrassed. She then looked from side to side, motioning Belle to come closer, “I’ll let you in on a secret, Chickie: I can’t either.” She then smiled, laughing as she motioned Victoria over, “Vickie can’t skate either, the only ones who know how are those three,” she pointed at the boys, who were still adjusting their skates, their faces entertained as they joked meaninglessly amongst each other.
Belle’s fast heart receded with consolation; she wasn’t alone. Even if she did look like an idiot, she knew Frannie and Victoria wouldn’t judge as much because they were in the same boat.
“Are you guys ready? Do you need to, like, powder your nose or some shit?” Jordan asked exasperatedly.
“No,” Victoria said, “but we need to team up. You three are the only ones out of the six of us who can skate. I’m with you, Dex.” She moved next to Dex, grabbing his arm as she tugged him into the rink. He looked frightened.
“Jordan, you’re my bitch for now.” Francesca and Jordan linked arms. Jordan looked back at Belle, his expression holding regret. “But I wanted to be with the saucy blonde!” She heard him say as the pair entered the rink.
“Guess that leaves you and me,” Maxus smiled, offering a hand.
Belle stared between his face and the outstretched hand. Maxus’s eyebrows fused, “You’re supposed to take it,”
“Oh, right.” She was quiet when they entered the arena. Her heart started to hammer again, so she tried to take deep breaths to slow it down without the boy noticing. She couldn’t even hold hands with a guy she barely knew without getting nervous; how did she ever expect to get a boyfriend?
Suddenly the feel of ice beneath her skates shocked her, her feet tucking under as gravity tried to pull her down. Before she could crash, Maxus caught her.
“Whoa Sally,” his eyes grew wide. He led her to the wall as Belle clung to the edge, not daring to make eye contact with him.
“Sorry,” she said quietly. God she was so clumsy.
“You’re fine. Sorry about the Sally thing, I sound like a cowboy in appalling situations sometimes. Don’t judge me.”
Belle laughed unexpectedly, which helped her anxiety settle somewhat.
“Alright, it’s you and me, me and you,” he told her closely, making strong eye contact as he motioned his finger between her and himself. Belle felt like she was getting a pep talk from a coach. “By the end of today you’ll be a pro at this shit. It’s exciting. You should be very excited.” He was nodding, indicating the question of whether she understood or not.
Belle nodded in response before taking his extended hand. He then moved behind her, switching sides so she was closest to the wall, as he exchanged hands and took her left hand in his, putting his right arm around her waist. This made Belle nervous; she’s never really been this close to a guy. He probably didn’t want to be doing this at all, despite his quirky mood she knew he was hiding the fact that he could be doing better things.
As he led, Belle made it her temporary life goal to not slip or mess up in any way. He was very good at the sport, his skates sliding with ease along the ice. Soon enough, so did Belle’s as she eventually matched her strokes upon the ice with his.
“See, you got this. Easy peasy,” he motivated her, showing a white smile. Belle kind of liked his smile; it set her at ease. But at the same time, there was something wicked to it, as if he was up to no good. She wondered for a second what was behind it.
“YOU GUYS LOOK CUTE!” Frannie’s voice shouted from across the rink as she skated clumsily alongside Jordan, who was practically a professional on the ice.
“Thanks!” Maxus shouted back with a low laugh.
Once she had gotten used to the feeling, Belle enjoyed skating. She liked the sensation of the delicately cold breeze coursing through her hair and clothes as her movements forced it upon her, and she enjoyed the slick feeling of ice beneath her feet. Belle was clumsy most of the time, but skating had made her feel graceful, and she appreciated feeling graceful for once.
The sun continued to dip as time went forth, the trees swaying with the strong wind currents of the evening. Children yelled and danced about happily as they skated awkwardly with their guardians; it was an adorable site. With every glide, the ice grew rougher and worn, and Belle could no longer see her shiny reflection through the scratches. By the time the group had finished, dusk was present and their shadows had disappeared for the day.
“Oh my God I have so much homework,” Francesca complained as they took off their skates. Belle silently agreed with her complaint as she recalled she had an essay to start along with two quizzes and a test to study for. Her brain ached at the thought.
Maxus snorted, “Why do you even bother? It’s such a waste of time.”
Belle felt her jaw drop, but closed it quickly before anyone could notice. How could he just not do his homework? Waste of time, it was comical to her. She began to really study Maxus as he flipped through his phone idly. By his stance and the way he carried himself, his easy humor and careless persona, he was the type to never do his homework. He probably got home after spending the day doing drugs with his friends, drank out of the milk carton, and played video games until he crashed for the night. She knew not to judge because it wasn’t a way to go about things, but how could one just not care? She almost felt envious.
The bunch had dispersed leaving as they did arriving; three girls in one taxi, three guys in the other. Belle and Francesca entered the cab first while Victoria had hung back. As Belle leaned over to observe what she was doing, she noticed Maxus hadn’t entered his taxi either. The two appeared to be conversing, but their expressions weren’t happy. She could only see Maxus as Victoria was faced away from the cab, and judging by his expression, he wasn’t enjoying the conversation. Victoria had then swiftly turned, her features irritated as she trudged over and entered the car bitterly. Curiosity dwelled over Belle as she pondered what possible history floated between them.
“Really? Vic-” Frannie started before Victoria threw a hand up to stop her.
“Don’t,” she told her firmly. Her look was deadly, and Belle felt intimidated just in that moment.
The driver took off as they veined out of Central Park and towards Belle’s home. Hers was the first stop, so the pair waved happily as Belle exited. She was worried of how she would return their pleasant farewells before they drove off. Should she smile happily back at them? Or should she wave and not smile? But if she didn’t smile clearly they would take it the wrong way and think she was being rude. But what if she smiled too broad, indicating that she was desperate to make friends? She didn’t want to appear desperate.
As she contemplated these overwhelming and stupid thoughts, she realized that the cab had already driven off, and they were well on their way down 66th. Belle felt like an idiot as she realized she had been standing there awkwardly, looking at the yellow cab that was now gone with her questioning if she should have waved goodbye or not.
When she entered her apartment, she heard angry voices originating from her parent’s bedroom. As soon as the door closed, the voices faltered. She heard stomps as she turned her head, witnessing her mother trudge passed her, the breeze of her action moving Belle’s hair.
“Hi,” she said awkwardly, feeling neglected as her mother hardly noticed her.
“Hey hun how was school?” she uttered in one sentence before entering the kitchen area, beginning to clean dishes loudly.
“Good,” she spoke before dropping her book bag beside the couch. She walked down the hall towards her parent’s room, curious to why her father was so silent.
He sat on the bed, slumping, facing away from her as he gazed out the window. His posture was sad, and the room was dark somehow, despite the exposed window. What were they arguing about? Belle’s parents fought occasionally, like all parents do, but this time felt quite different. There was a gloomy silence that settled in the apartment ever since Belle had stepped through the door.
“Dad?” she spoke softly, “Are you okay?”
He didn’t turn, but his head moved slightly. “Yeah, I’m fine.” His voice was glum.