"Ruby you have to."
"No I don't."
"This is not an option."
"Yes it is it's my choice my life."
"You're going back."
"It's called homeschooling." I remarked making my mother groan again, I knew I was making her life hard by not cooperating wit her but it's not like she was trying to work with me. December 6th the day my mother was trying to force me to go back to school, the last thing I wanted was to go back to the one place filled with complete monsters who drove my best friend to take her life. Luke had been allowed back last week and I knew the minute I even caught a glimpse of him I'd either break down or break him, the last thing I needed was to make a choice between the two.
"Ruby please you only have a few weeks and then it's winter break and then a few more months and you'll be free of high school, I know this is hard for you but you can't let this take over your life."
"I'm not I just don't want to go back to the hell hole."
I rolled my eyes cuddling farther into my blanket, "You act as if I'm five and need to be babied I'm almost eighteen."
"Ruby I have to work and so does your dad, Joey is going back to college in a few days, and I don't want Caleb spending all year looking after you because that's not his job." Her eyes narrowed at me as the hand that she had wrapped around a cup of hot chocolate started to turn red, that's what happened every time she was stressed her hands got red and trembled. I can admit I've been a handful trying to deal with losing Arianna but I never thought about how much I was hurting my parents in the process, so wrapped up in my sorrows I never stopped to think about everyone else's feelings.
"Mom I'm sorry I just...it's been hard."
She wiped the tears that had crept down her cheeks and smiled at me, "I know sweetie I know but you can't let this take over your life she would have wanted you to move on and live your dreams."
"All my dreams involved her." I whispered and she sighed cupping my cheek, her warm sent tingles that made me question if she was right.
"Maybe it's time to make new ones, but let's just start small with you going back to school."
I wanted to smirk at her outsmarting me but any happiness in me was gone at the thought of going back to Crookbay High the one place on Earth I wish I could burn down myself. After our little 'agreement' my mother left the room already on the phone talking to my school about me coming back within the next few days, I know that these next few days will not be my favorite.
"Ruby why do I have to drive you again?"
"Because I don't have a car and my mom wants to make sure I actually get to school."
"Please let me sleep." Caleb whined as I sat on the edge of his bed, it was a Wednesday and the dreaded day I was to go back to school. Since I didn't have a car and everyone was already at work my only hope of getting to school was Caleb and that was because my mom wanted proof I actually went to school today. But it was six in the morning and Caleb was never a morning person so I should have known this would be hard, I had been trying to get him out of bed since five and he still wasn't budging.
"Please I don't need my mom stressing about me not going back, I'll give you twenty bucks."
This made him flip over and face me, "Keep talking."
"Twenty bucks, I'll buy you an ice cream after you pick me up from school, I'll give you a back rub, and I won't make you watch the Little Mermaid with me tonight."
"You said that all week."
"Well tonight I promise you won't have to, so is that a yes?"
He hesitated but slowly sat up, "You had me at back rub."
I rolled my eyes and left the room so he could change, "I have to be there in half an hour so hurry."
"Don't rush me."
The Pink Palace has felt empty, the absence of Arianna has left the place completely lifeless the only signs of life were when me and Caleb were joking around and he could by a chance get me to smile. The door to her room stayed closed, the boxes of cake mix and white chocolate Arianna loved as late night snacks stayed abandoned in the back of the pantry, and the cold truth rang through all the halls where her laughter once did.
I spun around to see Caleb looking at me with a worried look on his face, "Yeah?"
"Why are you crying?" My hand shot up to my cheeks where tears where running down, I hadn't known I was crying. Slowly he came closer and wiped away the tears with the palms of his hands, "Better?"
I nodded and he led me out the door, the closer I got to Arianna's Jeep the more memories that came flooding back, all the times we spent in that truck and all the fun we had. But now sitting in it the seats felt unfamiliar, the smell of coconut burned my nose, and all the pictures and little memories the held everything I had left of Arianna. The ride began quiet but noticing the awkward silence Caleb turned on the radio and an old song by Justin Beiber came on which made him snicker, "What's so funny?"
"He is the whole 'baby baby baby ohhhh' is just really not cute anymore."
"You actually know the song that's what's funny." I said he looked over at me amused.
"It's an overplayed song and that's the only part I know." I smiled and his grin grew wider, "You're gonna have an okay day."
"How do you know that?"
"Because I know you and you're a strong and be glad because I'm going to walk you to all your classes." He smiled and I looked at him amused by his words.
"You don't go to Crookbay anymore."
"Yeah but who says I can't just stand outside all your classes waiting for you to get out just to walk you to the other classes."
"Um I'm pretty sure the people who made the rule again stalkers or pedophiles."
He looked at me and laughed, "So I'm a pedophile now?"
"More like a pedo bear, you're too adorable to be a full on pedophile." I remarked and he looked away a grin growing on his face.
"Thank you for that, but I'm gonna walk you to homeroom and just know if you feel pressured or it gets too much for you to handle just call me and I'll come and get you I don't care when, okay Ruby?"
I looked at him and nodded, but our moment was over because out of the corner of my eye I saw the school getting closer and closer. The parking lot was already crowded and as we pulled in people stopped as the memorable green Jeep pulled into the lot, this was the day everyone was waiting for I'd seen most of them at the funeral but now I'd have to be stuck with them instead of my family rows away from them.
"Caleb I can't do this let's just tell my mom I went to school and uh.."
"What? You're gonna have to deal with them sooner or later Ruby now is the day."
My eyes scanned over the wave of people and how hard they stared back hoping to see the walking horror show I had turned into, but as Caleb parked my stomach turned and I had a feeling they were about to get the show they were waiting for. Caleb said nothing as he climbed out the car and rounded to my side, he opened the door and held out his sunglasses which I quickly pulled on and grabbed his hand. He pulled me out of the car and slung my book bag over his shoulder before wrapping his other arm over my shoulder, as we made our way to the building everyone's eyes watched us looking at me trying to get their own ideas of what was going on in my head.
I wasn't trying to make an impression my hoodie and baggy jeans proved that, for once my hair was down but that was to make sure no one saw my face and I could avoid the side glances that people would give me. All I wanted was to rush back to the car and drive as far away from this school as possible, but Caleb wouldn't let me do that he'd do everything in his will not to let me.
It must have been fate because my eyes found them Luke and Lindsey. The world must hate me because at the same time I looked at them their gaze fell on me, Lindsey whispered something to him which caused his glare to intensify and my heart to speed up, everything about him put me on edge and just the way he looked at me made a wave of nausea overcome my mind.
"Caleb I need to..." He froze and made me face him pushing the sunglasses out of his way and making me look him in the eyes.
"Deep breath. Breath in. Breathe out. You're okay I'm right here with you you're okay."
I followed his instructions and the threat of a break down had calmed and I nodded, "I'm okay." He nodded and pushed my sunglasses back down before continuing our stride through the halls, every pair of eyes that fell on me felt like a pin prick in my heart because just a few short weeks ago these people turned from people who admired the nice and bubbly Arianna to the depressed and dead one. These people were the true example of bullying at its worse, they made her feel like the bad guy and made her feel so guilty that she took her life when Luke was the one who had started this entire situation.
Before I knew it me and Caleb stood at my homeroom him ready to leave me, Leave me to the wolf. He reached around his neck and took off his headphones putting them around my neck and plugging them into my phone, "When the whispers get to much."
I nodded and he sighed, people watched us as they walked by wondering why I was just standing in the hallway with Arianna's brother the one and only Caleb Taylor. Some girls ogled him others looked at me as if they were disgusted to see us even in the same place, he didn't even give them a side glance as his eyes searched my face hoping for me to say something. When I said nothing he sighed and pulled my head towards him kissing my forehead, "Be good and remember call me if it gets too hard, I'll come get you and we'll just go off and do whatever you want. Okay Ruby?"
Slowly he pulled away and walked down the hall glancing over his shoulder at me to make sure I was still there, with Caleb gone I turned and made my first leap of the day into homeroom. Everyone's eyes followed me as I walked to my homeroom teacher, he glanced up almost shocked to see me but cleared his throat and forced a smile.
"Hello Ruby and how are you?"
This took him off guard because he started to look nervous as he rummaged through some filed and took the file of work I'd been forced to complete at home for the past week, I walked away and made my way to the back of the room and sat at the only desk where no one was near. As if I had a disease the other people that sat even a row away decide to inch their desks forward a little or just walked to the front of the room and sat with their other friends, which didn't bother me because the minute I sat down I played my music on full blast blocking the world out.
The day went on the same, the minute everyone left the class I waited and the teachers all watched me but before they could muster a word I walked out. The music blocked out the whispers and the sunglasses blocked people from seeing the tears that fell here and there, and yet I still felt as if I could feel what everyone thought about me.
It were as if their emotions and thoughts were displayed on their heads screaming at me as I walked by, even with my music blasting in my ears their voices overpowered it making me feel like a schizo. By lunch I completely understood what could have been going through Arianna's mind all the time for the past few weeks, it was driving me insane. The cafeteria was packed and the thought of being stuck in there for longer than I needed really made me want to puke, so I'm just gonna grab an apple and a water then head to the library for some solitude.
The line wasn't long but as I stepped into it I still felt suffocated near the few people who surrounded me, the only apple left was a bright red apple which seemed like the only thing I might stomach. I reached for it but another hand reached for it too, a perfectly manicured hand with shiny gold bracelets that screamed I'm better than you. My whole day got worse as my eyes found the one and only Lindsey Winters with a bright smile on her face, something in her body language told me she meant business.
Behind my sunglasses I'm sure she could see the dead look I was giving her but she showed no sign of seeing my expression, but when I didn't respond she frowned but her smile returned.
"Aw what's wrong sweet pea cat got your tongue." Her smile was threatening and her smile showed every sign that she wanted me to crack, "I say just a few weeks ago I remember you trying to be the big tough one, what happened to big tough Ruby Collins?"
Just as tears threatened to fall the rest of Lindsey's followers came up and she looked at them as if they were here to help her torment me, but Ivy cautiously said, "Lindsey maybe we shouldn't bother her."
"Ivy did I ask you?" Lindsey asked but before Ivy could even open her mouth Lindsey shouted, "No."
All of Lindsey's girls were just like her in every way, snotty, conceited, and downright cruel. But not Ivy Gordon, she was the only one out of the five that was nice and actually cared about others. To say she was mean was to say Lindsey was a caring person, which some people would think you were insane if you even thought of such a thing.. I never understood why she would hang out with someone like Lindsey me and Arianna always thought if Lindsey hadn't gotten to her maybe Ivy would have been our friend, but still Ivy was one of Lindsey's four side girls and that's how it's been since the beginning of freshman year.
"Now Ruby are you going to apologize for the way you've been acting? Or do I have to make you apologize?"
I watched her tighten her fist and lift it a bit as if daring me not to apologize to her, but what did I have to apologize for? Sticking up for my best friend in her time of depression? If that was the case I guess I'd take Lindsey's threats.
"Ruby? Apologize. Now." I said nothing which made her growl and yank me out of the hall and out in the out where all the other students could see. Her smirk grew as if she knew I had seen every pair of eye turn towards us, "What's wrong Ruby? Can't take the heat? Maybe you should have thought about ever going against me, brave little Ruby Collins one minute you wanna act all tough the next you look like a scared little puppy. Maybe Arianna deserved what happened to her, the slut couldn't handle the heat no wonder she just went and killed herself."
All my anger boiled up inside of me I couldn't hold myself back from lifting my fist and connecting it with her chin hard enough she spun and dropped to the ground. Shouts came from all over the café and a crowd began to surround us as Lindsey turned over to face me, "Don't you ever think for one second you are any better! You are the slut, a whore, with the widest walls I'm sure every guy gets lost in. Arianna was better than you in so many ways you have no right to talk about her like that, she didn't deserve this any of this!!You will not ever disrespect her or me ever again or God help me you'll regret it."
"Teacher!!" Someone screamed, my entire body shook as anger swelled within me Lindsey was lifted off the ground holding her brightly red face almost making me want to smile. Before I could puncher again someone pushed me from the scene and into the hallway quickly, I spun around to face the person to see a small blonde, maybe in the same grade as me, with a camera slung around her neck, and crumpled hair that reminded me of Arianna when her hair was wet and wild.
"Who are you? Why did you push me out of there?"
She smirked, "I knew you wouldn't wanna be caught dead in the middle of that."
"Well suspension could be exactly what I need, I didn't wanna be here in the first place." Her eyes searched mine as if not believing me but after a second she grabbed my hand and started to pull me down the hall, I yanked away and she turned obviously annoyed.
"What are you doing?"
"I don't know you where are you taking me?"
She rolled her eyes, "I'm helping you, we need to get out of here before Lindsey and her little snitches rat us out."
She started to walk away her eyes trailed on me as she backed farther and farther away, I inwardly groaned but picking up my pace and following her as she led me down a deserted hallway stopping at a small door behind a row of lockers. She glanced to her right then her left before pulling out a key and opening the door, "You coming?"
I hesitated but slowly followed her in and shut the door, the room was small it held four desks, a small couch, a book shelf piled with numerous books, and a bunch of pictures and posters filled the walls. It was like a small hangout, "What is this?"
"The janitor named Carl he's my uncle, I needed a studio for my pictures and he offered this place. No one uses it so it's all mine."
I eyed her, "And the teachers are okay with this?"
"Hey I didn't say people besides us knew about this" she smirked and I smiled a little, "So I'm Dani, my government name is Danielle but I prefer Dani. You're Ruby right."
"The one and only, thanks for um helping me back there you didn't have to do that."
She rolled her eyes and sat on one of the desks stretching out, "No problem dude girls like Lindsey need to learn they don't own the world, anyway what did she say to you?"
"It's um...about Arianna, I'm pretty sure you heard what happened."
"Actually I don't listen to the rumors that circle this school, Crookbay runs on rumors so I don't bother. But it's true that she...?"
"Yea she committed suicide." I whispered and she nodded her eyes still trailed on me as I looked away, "You know Lindsey always had a problem with Arianna and the minute Arianna isn't strong enough to fight back Lindsey took advantage and terrorized her."
"That's how girls like Lindsey are, the minute they find an ounce of weakness they pounce ready to take control of the situation. I'm sorry for what happened to Arianna, I never really knew her but she was always nice I have great pics of her." She leaped off the desk and walked over to the back wall where a ribbon hung on the wall reading 'Rest In Peace Arianna', there were pictures of her ranging from her volleyball games, to her in the drama club, and when me and her were just being ourselves.
"You just took these?"
She wrapped a curl behind her ear, "I like to take pictures of people when the time is right when they least expect it you know, I'm no stalker Arianna knew I took these pictures. This one was her and my favorite."
She handed me a photo of a girl with blonde curls that surrounded her as she spun around to face the camera an enormous smile on her face and a brunette with her face lit up with a smile as they laughed about something so funny the had to grip each other to keep from falling. They sat perched on a spinning wheel at a park surrounded by bright sunlight and flowers, this was last summer me and Arianna at our park laughing and enjoying our lives.
"These were the good days, I miss them a lot. I miss her more though."
She looked at me sadly but not sympathetically like everyone else di she looked at me as if saying it will get better if you stay strong, if anybody else looked at me like I'd blow them off angrily. But not Dani she was different, "You know this place blows let's get out of here."
She didn't have to tell me twice because we both ran down the hall and out to the parking lot and to her blue Buggy, I smirked at the small car and she rolled her eyes, "Don't judge my baby I love this little guy. Where are we going?"
I thought for a minute but could only think of the one place I liked to go when me and Arianna wanted to skip school, "Livingston Park right off of Grover St."
She nodded and started the car turning the radio up loudly, a rock song came on and she started nodding her head hard and pumping her fist. As she drove I took in all her details, by instinct I compare her to Arianna from the way she acted to the way she dressed. While Arianna dressed spunky and sassy with skirts and graphic tees, Dani dressed like she was in a rock band with ripped jeans and her leather vest and boots.
She wasn't a bad girl kind of type she was more of the rebellious photographer, which was written in red lipstick on her dashboard. But it explained her entirely and perfectly, Arianna was bubbly while Dani was carefree. The way she looked at the world around her amazed me, we were sitting on the swings at Livingston when she snapped a picture of me and smiled.
"There's nothing more mind boggling than a picture of a girl in deep thought, that's why they say a picture is worth a thousand words. You could be the new face of my photos and so could this park."
I gazed around at the now leafless trees and the cold air that nipped at my nose and burned my ears bright red, the snow wouldn't be falling for another week or so and I was gonna make sure I got enough time at my park as possible, "It's really pretty in the spring but the summer it's just beautiful."
"I know the sun hits the water at a perfect angle around sunset and it's a photo op waiting to happen."
"When did you get into photography?"
She looked up happily, "I love when people ask me that. I was maybe eight going on nine and I was always one for taking pictures and my family always had a camera ready for family events. But my cousin Monica she um had these visions that you know made her real loopy and question life, one day I was playing wither Kodak camera and my finger slipped on the flash button. The picture that came out was of her in the bathroom, she was looking into the mirror and had this look on her face that instantly made me scared, but the one thing the camera got was the handful of pills she had in her hand. I screamed for my aunt who rushed in and stopped her, she got the help she needed and she always told me she was thankful I was playing with that camera because if my aunt hadn't stopped her she would have been dead and not found the hope to live when she got the help she really needed. I saved her with the click of a camera, and that day I realized I could catch the true thought of people in just one picture. I could help people and see their story through a picture, I guess you could say I'm a visionary but I knew being a photographic was the one thing I had to be. I never leave my house without my camera."
The smile that she had on her face told me this was her passion and something she held dear, if only she had been there to tell me she knew what Arianna was going to do. If only.
"Dani all the pictures you took of Arianna could you tell she was going to do this?"
"I can't tell what someone is going to do but I can tell how they feel, in the latest pictures I have of her she has this you know....dead look in her eyes. I just thought it was no big deal just the depression overtaking her I guess I was wrong."
"Yeah don't blame yourself not even I could save her."
Her hand found mine and she squeezed, "Maybe you weren't meant to."
Her brown eyes softened and something about her made me feel invited, she reminded me of the feeling I used to have when I first met Arianna. Dani couldn't replace Arianna but maybe she was just what I needed to help me get through this, Caleb was there for me but maybe what I really needed, was a friend.
Livingston was me and Arianna's park, but sitting here with Dani still felt right the swings creaked as we pushed our legs back and forth. The whole time my eyes never left the spinning wheel and Dani's hand never let go of mine, the air started to get colder after a while so Dani pulled me from the swing and back to her Buggy. I didn't want to go back home and yet this day had drained so much out of me all I wanted to do was sleep, "If you want you can just drop me off at home now."
"Why do you think I want to get rid of you?"
"No I just thought you might have things to do."
She smiled, "Nah nothing better to do with my life than stop at a McDonald's and get some food, what do you say?"
"Sure." It was around five and if anything Caleb would call me to check on me since I hadn't been at school when he came to pick me up. Dani had pulled into the parking lot and we climbed out just as a mother and her kids came barreling past each child with a Happy Meal and each one munching on fries or playing with their toy. I watched each of them the last one a little girl with two pigtails and dark black hair, she smiled at me and handed me a chicken nugget before rushing off to catch up to her family.
"Did you just get a chicken nugget from that little girl?"
Glancing down at it I smiled, "Yeah I think she liked me." Dani snickered and pulled me through the door as I bit into the small nugget, the fast food place which is usually packed was now a little abandoned with a few customers here and there. Me and Dani were the third customers in line and we get to the counter quickly.
The cashier smiled, "Hi welcome to McDonald's what can I get you?"
Dani looked at me and smiled, "My treat. okay I'll take one order of twenty piece nugget, two large fries, two McChickens, one Oreo McFlurry, one iced Mocha coffee, and one medium coke."
The cashier looked at Dani surprised but she just winked making him blush and type down all the order, I was glad she actually got something that I liked and to say I wasn't hungry was a lie. I walked to a booth in the back of the place and took a seat, just as I did my phone rang, "Hello?"
"Ruby where are you, I went to your school t pick you up you didn't come out I thought you got I ride so I checked at home but you're not there and I went to the park. Where are you?" Caleb screamed.
"I'm at McDonald's don't worry I'm with a friend."
He paused, "Which McDonald's?"
"Because I'm coming to get you."
I scoffed, "I have a ride and I'm with a friend I don't need you to come get me."
"Which friend are you with?"
"Why does it matter?"
"I'm on my way now which one?"
I groaned, "Goodbye Caleb." I ended the call just as Dani came over with our food and the minute she set it down her mouth was stuffed with fries, nuggets, and soda. I smiled and took a bite of my McChicken and some fries marveling at all the things she bought, "What are we feeding five people?"
"Dude I'm eight people when 'm hungry. Who were you on the phone with?"
I sighed and went to take a sip of the soda, "You don't have diseases do you?"
"Nah dude just the small things AIDS, HIV, Herpes, oh and can't forget the Clap."
I smiled and took a sip, "That was Caleb Arianna's brother."
"Ooo do you have like a forbidden my best friend's brother romance going on?"
"No he's just my babysitter."
"I remember Caleb Taylor I'd love for him to babysit me." She grinned and I rolled my eyes automatically knowing her dirty thought, I reached for the carton of fries when a hand snatched them from my reach. My eyes darted to the person who had stolen my fries, I groaned at who stood before me, Caleb. Dani jumped up ready to punch him when she realized who he was, "Well well Mr. Taylor fabulous to see you again."
"I can say the same thing Dani, so you're Ruby's new friend."
She smirked, "Seems that way."
"I'm glad I thought you were a boy."
I looked at him shocked, "Why were you jealous?"
"Of course." He deadpanned which took me off guard and made Dani laugh.
"Good one Taylor. So you do have a forbidden thing going on Ruby why did you lie to me?"
"I didn't I.." I stuttered and they both laughed making me huff, "You guys are jerks."
"Good now as much as I'd like to catch up Scott me and Ruby have to get home I have dinner awaiting u and the children." He said packing up my stuff and lifting me from the chair.
"Oh now we wouldn't want to keep the children waiting, Ruby call me later yeah?" She took my phone and dialed in her number and call her phone getting my number, she smiled and hugged me before packing up her things and walking the door. For where I stood I could hear her Buggy start and rive away, Caleb grinned and walked to the door.
"Ho do you know Dani?"
He looked at me amused, "How do you know Dani, Ruby?"
"I asked you first."
He rolled his eyes, "I used to hang out with her she was dating my buddy Dylan, now how do you know her?"
"We met today she kinda helped me escape when I uh..." he looked at me skeptically, "when I punched Lindsey."
"You punched Lindsey!?"
"In the face." I bit my lip and he shocked me by laughing.
"And I knew there was something about your anger that scared me, how bad was the hit?"
I raised an eyebrow still in shock, "She spun and dropped to the floor."
"Ouch she's gonna feel that in the morning." He climbed into the Jeep and I followed climbing into the passenger side, "I'm proud of you Ruby."
I smiled and relaxed against the soft seat sleep wanting to take me, but I didn't want it to. The ride was quick but by the time we pulled up to my driveway my eyes were droopy and I was on the brink of sleep, any second Caleb would hake me awake but he didn't. My door opened and he wrapped my legs around his waist and carried me all the way up to my room, carefully he took off my converse and head phones before pulling up the comforter over me.
He smiled, "For?"
"Being there for me." I whispered and he smiled, he bent down and placed a kiss on my forehead before my eyes closed shut completely.