“So. Did you fail?”
Jamie stuffed the paper into her bag. All the way down, scrunched next to the leaking pickle sandwich her father had been so proud of. “And if I told you I passed?”
She didn’t know if she should be offended by the genuine surprise on Lindsay’s face. Was it possible to be smugly offended? Because she was. Very smug.
Lindsay’s milky eyes somehow managed to give her a long, blunt stare. “That’s sarcasm, right?”
“Yup.” She snapped up the clasps of her beaten bag, and grinned. “28.”
There was a breathless cough as Lindsay did one of her inhaling laughs. She covered her mouth with both hands, and the smile flooded up to her twinkling eyes. Jamie’s grin widened. “I’m sorry,” Lindsay gasped finally. “I have to ask: what exactly did you pass?”
Humming innocently, Jamie slipped her satchel over her head and freed the unruly curls that had been caught under the strap. The Mickey Mouse keychain she’d had since second grade clinked cheerfully. She’d been meaning to take it off since the first day of high school but two years later, she had yet to do so without her dad noticing and reacting like a kicked puppy. Today, it didn’t seem so embarrassing.
Lindsay tapped her cane impatiently. She was the only person who was genuinely interested in Jamie’s results. After all, she was responsible for pulling her new friend out of a history of suspensions and near-expulsion. The crumpled paper in her bag was the first exam Jamie had taken seriously all year. Still, Jamie wasn’t used to the attention and stalled by guiding Lindsay to the door.
She could have gotten away without saying anything. Lindsay wasn’t the type to press the issue. But the longer the silence dragged on, timed by the soft tapping of Lindsay’s cane, the more Jamie realised that she wanted to talk. She smacked the side of her leg, the way she used to when Preston offered her something she wanted to chicken out of. She breathed.
“Do you know what it’s like to be acknowledged for something you did right, even if it’s a crap mark? To pass everyone’s expectations of you?”
Lindsay’s expression softened. “Not the way you do,” she said. This was what Jamie appreciated most about Lindsay: her honesty.
Jamie gently raised Lindsay’s hand to her own face, letting her feel her smile. It was a little sad, a little hopeful and a little awkward. Real smiles didn’t look as pretty as movies made them seem. A lot of things in life weren’t that pretty. But Jamie was slowly learning that not all things were ugly. Some were priceless, like red pen on math equations and a warm afternoon shared between a blind rich girl and the delinquent who had finally been seen.
“It feels good.”
2 down, 98 to go. Whoo. Sooooo close :P Jamie and Lindsay came out of nowhere, but maybe I can bring them back in future themes. It’s just like me to procrastinate on side projects rather than work on my novel. Still trying to remember what it feels like to write!
100 Themes taken from here. Someone do them with me! I’ll take 5 years to finish them all at this rate.
Check out #1 Introduction here. There’s an unintentionally depressing theme going on… Oops.
Wow, I can’t believe how rusty my writing has gotten! Even more reason to take up the 100 Themes challenge in my free time. I’m using prompts found here. Anyone feel like joining me? :)
Wisps of grey and an edgy sigh whistled through his teeth. “Don’t be a pain. Get out.”
She fidgeted at the door, her shuffling feet scuffing a scratchy pattern against the torn carpet. It used to have a proper colour, the same way this crumbly shack of a house had once felt like home. “You shouldn’t smoke inside,” she said hesitantly. “Mama will be mad.”
“Is she back?” She shook her head, mousy curls bouncing on her skinny shoulders. “Then leave me alone.”
She didn’t move. Her curious gaze followed the trail of smoke from his lips to the thin haze hovering below the grimy ceiling. She stared at the cracks in the peeling paint, probably expecting in that gullible way of hers for the smoke to seep through and flow into a chimney of rust.
“Can I try?” she blurted.
The bolts of the bed squeaked as he turned. She shrank away as if being looked down at from the top bunk was more intimidating than divine judgement from the heavens. An awkward growth spurt had stretched her into the second-tallest fifth grader, a mess of gangly twig limbs. She looked like a flightless bird caught in crosshairs.
His eyes narrowed. “She hit you, didn’t she?” he asked sharply.
“Did not,” she mumbled.
A low growl rumbled in the back of his throat. “Where?”
“She didn’t,” she insisted. Her arms were crossed behind her back, where he knew her nail-bitten fingers would be flexing nervously into eerie, double-jointed angles.
The hardness of his fiery gaze seemed like it was trying to solder the lie into her tongue. Yet his expression was colder than the ashes in the tray when he wordlessly dangled his arm down to offer her the cigarette. She stared at it in surprise. Then she anxiously licked her lips and took it with her pale fingers.
A tentative puff was all it took to send her into a wheezing spiral. Tears sprang into her eyes. His strong jawline shifted beneath his skin, murky eyes flickering. Folded into herself, she shakily held the cigarette back out to him. He passed her the tray. “Put it out.” She obeyed with desperate regret, still choking on bitter fumes.
He looked steadily at her. “You won’t try that again,” he said. The stern lines in his face might have resembled their father. They might not have. You couldn’t tell that much from a torn photo. “Understood?”
She nodded tearfully.
In one resolute movement, he threw the tray out the open window. It clipped the edge of the frame with a crack and wobbled drunkenly through the air until it shattered loudly in the middle of the driveway. They both winced.
“Mama will…” she began to whisper, then trailed off into silence.
He rolled back into his initial position, ignoring her. Smoke continued to circle languidly above his head even as a chilly breeze swept through the window. All of a sudden she didn’t want to stand where he couldn’t see her, so she climbed up the creaky ladder and peered down at him. “Are you angry?” she asked in a small voice.
He didn’t open his eyes. “What do you think?”
“Don’t become like her,” he muttered, almost to himself. “Just don’t.”
She didn’t want the lonely smoke to get to him, so she waved her arms above his head until they felt heavy and the grey wisps left his motionless, uncaring figure alone. Then she curled into a small ball in the bottom corner of the bed, at the foot of his warmth, and lay there until ashes blew into dust and settled into a smoky blanket around her shoulders.
feature image from ~Maizzi