Exposed

The human mind can either create you; build you in ways the world will adore. Or, it can destroy you. Tear you down until any shed of light you have ever encountered has been reduced to depressing, torturous blackness. Belle Vermont is somewhere in the middle. With a heavy dose of Social Anxiety and seventeen years of somewhat closed off peace, she steps into a world that's excited to give her a punch in the face. New York City might as well be a vast black cavity, ready to shape Belle's existence into the size of a dime. Upon discovering Maxus Bayhood, a red engine whose attention is set on recklessness, as well as his group of friends who like to have a little fun, can Belle hold on? Or will she allow her disorder to control her life? She has been exposed, and there is no turning back.

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4. Chapter 4

Friday crept up slowly while the atmosphere got colder. December was right around the corner, and the month gave Belle certain warmth that she never usually felt inside. She stopped making Christmas lists very young; her mind was possibly too cramped to focus on items she could await for on Christmas day, even at the age of ten. But she loved the lights of the Christmas tree, and how their shades would make colorful patterns on her skin in the darkness. Her mother always made the best meals and sweets for the holidays, and she loved to munch on cookies while gazing outside the window, imagining the decent of snow that was basically impossible in the West coast. She knew it was corny to be so in love with Christmas, especially at her age, so she never really told anyone. But it was the only time of the year that truly made her happy in a sense.

                The apartment was empty when Belle arrived home, the dwelling still and quiet. Her backpack thumped heavily on the floor, causing sound waves to pulsate throughout the silent residence. As she poured a glass of orange juice, she heard the subtle jingle of her phone indicating a text.

                Hey Chickie

                It was Frannie. At first, Belle didn’t like the idea of Francesca having her number, mainly because Belle was a terrible texter, and she didn’t want Frannie to be insulted. But now, she kind of enjoyed received texts from her every other day. It was a reminder that someone was thinking of her, and that she always had a friend even if they weren’t physically present.

                Meet me at the Beach Café in 10? Plez

                Belle didn’t want to over think this one, but she could already feel the thoughts building, readying themselves for a downpour. What if she brought other people that Belle didn’t know? Or what if it was just her and Frannie; Belle is terribly boring around other people, and Frannie is so fun and full of life. She would be disappointed that she even invited Belle to spend time with her. After this, she might never want to speak to her again, along with her other friends. What if-

                ?????

                Oh God, she was taking too long to reply. Now Frannie is definitely regretting-

                Answer meeeeee

                Belle took a deep breath as she replied yes. She couldn’t say no, it would most likely make Francesca question if she was even worth being friends with. And she could already feel her and Frannie’s friendship molding into something that could possibly be great. Maybe even better than the friends she had in California. Just considering the thought saddened her, and made her feel like a shitty person. But she was in a different state now, in a completely different environment with very different people. Maybe her perspective had to be different as well.

 

+

 

Belle had to hold on to her scarf because the wind kept pushing it. She had printed out the directions to the Beach Café on Google maps, but decided to leave the directions at home because she didn’t want to appear a tourist. Instinct was something Belle never usually relied on, but after studying the map for ten minutes, she decided to give it her best shot and hope she wouldn’t break down crying. The loud honking of the vehicles directed jolts through her as she continued down the gray streets. She still hadn’t gotten used to the sounds of the city, considering that they were so opposite of her previous surroundings.

                Soon enough the Beach Café sign moved into view, its letters a slick gold. Belle spotted Francesca sitting at one of the metal outside tables, peering at her phone to most likely kill time. She suddenly felt guilty; she made Frannie wait so long just to hang out with her. She realized now that she had to cross the street, which was easy in California, but not here. Maybe it was just her uncivilized adaptation to city life, but the thought of walking in the road with vehicles whizzing by at a constant rate sent anxiety through her.

                “Chickie!” Francesca was waving crazily with a pleased smile.

                Belle felt certain contentment, now knowing Francesca wasn’t so mad after all. She had to make a rash decision and cross the road quickly before Frannie noticed she was scared. She stepped onto the dirty gray road, her boots subtly clicking as she paced quickly, her head swinging to both sides to the point where she looked like a moron. When she reached the other end of the sidewalk, she felt her heart relax, and decided that wasn’t so bad.

                “Hey Belle,” Francesca greeted sweetly, “you look super cute.”

                When Belle was complimented, in any way, she usually waved it off in her mind. She would give a quick thank you to show she wasn’t being rude or over self-confident, and continue on with her previous thoughts. Sometimes compliments worried her because she felt like they were lying to secretly make fun of her, or that they were evaluating all of her flaws and decided to pick the least flawed to present vocally. She knew it was stupid, all of her thoughts were stupid, but they were lodged deeply into her brain. They hid and festered, and continued to feed on her lightness as she got older.

                “Thank you,” she replied, sitting down and peering at the menu. Belle was bewildered at the overly expensive prices.

                “Yeah, I know,” Frannie commented as if she read Belle’s mind. “everything in the whole city is overpriced. You can buy a bag of shit and it’ll cost you forty dollars.”

                She laughed in response to Francesca’s humor. Belle enjoyed listening to Francesca, which was all she did for the next couple hours. It was easy because Frannie loved to talk, and she somehow found plenty of interesting things to talk about. The air was crisp and nice. The food was outstanding, so she felt it worth the price. And for the first time in her life, Belle enjoyed having so many people around. They were all in their own worlds; yelling across Bluetooth, flicking through their shiny black iPads, briefcases swinging. It was one of many few times that she felt safe and at ease, knowing that they weren’t judging her.

                “You know,” Frannie said, eyeing Belle curiously, “There’s something about you. You don’t function like the other assholes I have to deal with every day. You’re… different.”

                Her heart sank. Frannie continued to dip the shiny utensil into her green and purple salad, completely oblivious to Belle’s anxiety levels, which had sky rocketed just by a few simple words. She knew deep down that Frannie must not have meant it in a bad way, and it was just her disorder, but she had to ask. She must ask.

                “What do you mean?” Her voice was shaking strong enough for Francesca to hear it. This was bad. This was very bad.

                “Whoa whoa chill Chickie,” She presented forth her hands in a surrendering gesture, “I didn’t mean it in a bad way.”

                Belle’s relief set in slowly, as she took a subtle deep breath. She hated being this way, and it was so embarrassing. Francesca appeared to be examining her, brown eyes flicking between Belle’s blue ones. She was confused, and curious, both of which Belle didn’t blame. Suddenly Frannie’s expression cleared, as if she had discovered light for the first time.

                “You have social anxiety.”

                A few moments passed before Belle nodded slightly, feeling a sense of weakness as she confirmed. But she knew this was important for the people she would most likely be spending a lot of time around to know, whether she liked to admit it or not. She couldn’t picture Francesca leaving her alone, and she didn’t know why. She had supposed Frannie was that type of person that was open to everyone, even the new and awkward kids. There was a place for everybody in her heart, and Belle took comfort in that. If anyone in the city besides her parents were to know of her disorder, she would want it to be Frannie.

                “God, it all makes sense now. Wow.” She moved her eyebrows up and down, exhaling, as if discovering this was like finishing a work out. “My Aunt has the same thing. I just can’t believe I didn’t piece it together earlier. I’m so sorry if I – or anyone – have ever –”

                “Frannie, you’re fine. You didn’t do anything…” Belle looked down, playing with her fork, “it’s mainly just me. You’ve actually helped a lot. You were always nice to me since I first got here.”

                Francesca laughed, placing one hand over her heart and swinging the other in the air dismissively. “Oh stop it,” she replied while rolling her eyes dramatically. Abruptly Francesca’s phone buzzed, pulling her out of her comedic modest state. She peered at the screen, her face switching from amusement to agitation.

                “Shoot,” she muttered, “I forgot to feed Victoria’s cat. The bitch is hardly ever home nowadays, so I have to do it.” She rolled her eyes exasperatedly, putting her phone down and shoving leafage into her mouth. “I call her a bitch,” she started, peering at Belle, “But I love her. The bitch is like a sister to me.”

                The sudden mention of Victoria struck instant curiosity in Belle’s mind for something that she couldn’t recall. She had been inquisitive about something between her and another. The boy. He had a peculiar name, and she remembered it was something like Max. Or Maxus. Her mind made a short flashback to the ice rink, where the two seemed to be arguing. Belle didn’t know why she even cared, but she knew they must have had some kind of interesting history. She was nervous to ask Francesca about this because she didn’t want to be invasive, but now that Francesca was aware of what Belle had, maybe asking questions wouldn’t be so difficult.

                “Um, by the way,” she started off, cautious, “I saw Victoria and Maxus at the ice rink arguing. I know this is none of my business and I should probably-”

                “Ughhhh oh my God.” Francesca threw down her fork aggravated, starting to message her temples with her fingers. “Don’t get me started on those two.”

                For the next half hour, Frannie talked about the in fact remarkable history between the two. It was interesting to listen to, and Belle never realized how much she liked hearing gossip. Her friends back home never really had gossip, and when they did, it usually involved the higher up populars who didn’t know of their existence. She didn’t know how she felt about it. She never thought she would be one of those girls who enjoyed hearing negativity of other people. Or maybe, she was just curious. Victoria and Maxus’s past wasn’t necessarily negative. Belle quickly battled this in her mind, because she desperately didn’t want to be an invasive hype junkie.

                Maxus and Victoria were old flames, who had now subsided as friends with the still dwindling emotions, hanging above them like a teasing cat toy. Apparently Victoria still has very strong feelings for Maxus, but he only cares about her as a best friend, even when they were dating. He never really felt for her what a relationship would require, because according to Frannie, relationships are somewhat foreign to him. Victoria, however, loves relationships. She just chose the wrong boy to fall in love with.

                Even though this information was in no relation to Belle whatsoever, she felt her heart crush for Victoria. She wasn’t even aware of the feeling, of being in love, and she knew that that destination was countries away. But she could imagine having such resilient emotions for a boy who just couldn’t love back. She wished Maxus would feel the same for her, because her impression of the two together was a very strong thing.

                “Yeah, he’s a dumbass,” Francesca went on, “both of them are. But I can’t really blame him. Victoria can be stubborn and aggressive. She’s hard to be in a relationship with; ask her ex-boyfriends.” Frannie chuckled at this, sipping from her light colored coffee.

                Belle made circles with her finger on the table, looking down and feeling awkward. She wanted to ask so many questions for some reason. She didn’t know why. Her mind would eventually force her to get over it, if she did ask invasive questions.

                “Have… you ever dated?” As soon as the words sputtered from her lips, she felt bad.

                “Ugh, yes.” She rolled her eyes, wind moving her hair. When Belle looked closely, she could see the puff of breath as Frannie exhaled. The temperature has dropped quickly since she arrived. “I have crushes on so many hot guys, I promise, but I always end up dating the shit bags.” Francesca paused for a short time, staring at the concrete ground, her eyes glazing over. She was thinking about something, the past perhaps. “Haven’t you dated?”

                “No,” the word escaped before Belle could stop it. She was never used to that question, because no one ever asked. Francesca and her friends were big on the dating market; what will they think of her now?

                “You haven’t dated anyone?” Shock filled her tone, overflowing at the edges. Belle noticed whenever Frannie was surprised, her eyes grew wide. And now Belle felt a sudden sorrow. The friendship was over, and it was great while it lasted. Of course, who would want to be friends with a person who’s remained single at the age of seventeen?

                “But, you’re like, so hot,” she continued to talk with her hands as she gestured both to Belle, as if presenting her as an award. “How do you do it?” Her voice was in somewhat awe.

                “Do what?” She hesitated before asking.

                “Stay single? How do you avoid all the pigs that crawl around this disgusting place we call Earth?”

                “Um…” Belle was about to wave off the question, as do most, but this one made her think. She speculated while glancing up at the blue sky, birds sprawling. Belle already knew the answer; she viewed herself as repetitive and annoying. A disappointment. It wasn’t a wonder why no one wanted to date her, and she was technically fine with that. The words ‘boyfriend’ and ‘scary’ went hand in hand.

                “I just,” she hesitated for a moment before deciding to be honest, “I’m annoying.”

                Francesca scrunched up her face, her eyebrows contorting in confusion. “No you’re not, trust me. I’ve met plenty annoying bitches and I’m pristine at weaving them out. I would not be sitting here, talking to you on this glorious day if you were annoying.” She finished with a large intake of salad, one green leaf sticking to her cheek. Belle laughed. She considered her comment, and laughed again, feeling slightly better about herself.

                The pair weaved through the crowded streets for the remainder of the day, the sport of window shopping at its finest. Although the girls just ate, Frannie insisted on Belle trying New York’s famous dirty water hot dogs, which she was more eager to consume than necessary. There were plenty of attractive boys in New York, Belle discovered, and she found herself laughing more than she had ever in her life time when Frannie would attempt to make a move on them.

                She would occasionally yell “Nice ass!” before Belle doubled over, hand resting on a bench, as she brought forth a giggling fit. That day was the most fun she’s had in a very long time.

 

+

 

In the process of dragging herself out of bed on Monday morning, the air cold and dry, she centered her sleepy eyes on the bedroom window. The clouds were gray, which made a nice contrast between the shades of concrete and road. She wondered when it would start snowing; the thought of delicate snow falling was riveting. In stories and heartwarming family films, snow was always a big factor of one’s childhood. She always resented not growing up around the crisp white snow.

                Belle was tired, which affected her whole day as she trudged through the hallways at Cameron, making eye contact with nothing but her reflection on the ground. When it was time for lunch, she had started sitting with Frannie and her friends. On the first few days of school, she found a quiet blocked off area, dark and abandoned. Or she would sit in a bathroom stall, placing excessive amounts of toilet paper on the seat before sitting. Those were lonely days, and as time went on, Belle became more grateful of Francesca and the bunch.

                However, today she decided to make a trip to the library. Eating was not allowed in the quiet, vast space, but Belle had forgotten lunch, so she might as well. She didn’t know what she was exactly looking for when she entered. A book? Though she is already reading three at the same time. As she made her way over to an empty table, she set her books down and took out her homework. Much more of the stuff was given here than in Cali, resulting in hours of homework when back home it would take her all but thirty minutes. She didn’t mind though, because she liked working. It took her mind off other things and set her thoughts at ease.

                The library was quite empty, and the silence was overwhelming at first. Belle liked silence, but ever since she moved here, she’s become adapted to large sums of noise. This was the most noiseless and vacant space she’s been to in a while. Suddenly the sound of a thump resonated. Multiple thumps actually, originating from behind one of the book shelves, as if someone has just dropped a ton of books. She heard a subtle “shit” before noticing a tuff of dark hair poking out from the top of the wooden shelf. It had a somewhat reddish tint when you focused on the color in the light, and Belle remembered Maxus had the same hair.

                She stared for a while before he abruptly stood straight, his face holding annoyance as he repositioned the books back in their rightful places. He then looked up, noticing her staring at him. She looked down quickly, silently praying that he wouldn’t talk to her. Frannie was really the only person in the group that Belle could have a proper conversation with.

                But it was too late, because in her peripheral vision, she saw him walking over. He thumped two heavy books on the table, and as Belle glanced up, he was smiling. But it wasn’t an average smile, it was a crazy one. A smile full of humor that was supposed to make the other laugh, and it did, because Belle laughed.

                “Hi,” he greeted shortly, sitting across from her and moving her backpack so he could see her face. “You’re Belle. I remember because of our riveting ice skating lesson.” He smiled wide again, displaying a row of white teeth.

                “Hi,” she greeted softly. She didn’t know what to say, but she didn’t want to look down at her work again, because that was beyond rude. What did she know about him? Nothing. Except for his old relationship with Victoria, but she strongly doubted that would correlate with the current situation. “Um,” she muttered.

                “Why are you here? Don’t you sit with our group or whatever now?”

                She hesitated, and she didn’t know why. What if he leaves and tells Frannie that she ditched them? Frannie would be upset. “I just needed to finish homework.” Her attempt at sounding cool was a failure.

                “Oh.” He nodded, looking at the floor, and then gazing out the window. His eyes were blue. The same color of Belle’s, almost. “Well usually I’m never here. I don’t think I’ve ever even rented a book since I started going to this school,” he looked away for a moment, as if just realizing this. His expression then was of slight disappointment. “But my teacher’s a shit bag so now I have to organize books.” He looked at Belle for a moment, his eyes squinting slightly as if studying her. “You’re from California, right?”

                She coughed before answering. “Yes.”

                “Are people there usually this shy? Because you haven’t made eye contact with me once.”

                Her heartbeat quickened, and she thumped her fingers across the paper anxiously. She then forced herself to look into his eyes at the same time he was looking at her, which held for longer than she would have preferred. “Sorry,” she blurted, “I… sorry.”

                “Nah you’re fine,” he replied with a light laugh. She felt his gaze burning a hole through her, and she wished he would leave. “You have nice eyes,” he told her before picking up his books casually. “See yah.”

                As if a boulder had lifted itself off her chest, she exhaled, and watched him go. He was in Francesca’s group of friends, so she knew she would be seeing him around often. She hoped that soon enough she will succumb enough comfort in talking to him as much as she had with Francesca, because that was awkward and tense. Well, for her at least.

                The bell shrieked, pulling her out of her anxious daze as she packed up her things quickly and left the quiet sanctuary. 

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