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Deirdre of the Sorrows


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#1 peanut_butter

peanut_butter

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Posted 09 March 2008 - 10:03 PM

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Eeep! We made it to thread two!
For convenience, I\'m going to post all the old stuff.
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I was eight years old the first time my mother told me the story of Deirdre of the Sorrows. This is one of my most vivid memories of my childhood, curled up with my mom on our run-down old couch, my piping little-girl voice asking, “Mama, what does Deirdre mean?”

My mother then commenced telling me of the first Deirdre, who was predicted at birth to grow up into the most beautiful woman in her land, and was promised to the king because of this. At first, this idea delighted me—me, a princess! Then the myth continued, speaking of how Deirdre fell in love with not the king, but one of the king’s soldiers, Naosie. Deirdre and Naosie fled the country, so as to escape the wrath of the king at having his bride stolen. Again, this appealed even to my small self; it was so romantic, running away for the sake of love. I could appreciate it then.

But the story continued. The king was so jealous and furious that he sent his soldiers after Deirdre, chasing her, Naosie, and his two brothers all around the world, finding them again every time they nearly escaped. It was a long hunt that lasted many years. Eventually, though, the king’s many soldiers and resources caught up with them and—here’s where the story starts to get sticky—Naosie and his two brothers were killed in front of Deirdre’s eyes.

The king then took Deirdre back to his land, and forced her to be his wife. Deirdre was, however, so distraught at the loss of Naosie, her one true love, that she died of sorrow. In some versions, she leaned out of her chariot and dashed her head against a rock, effectively committing suicide. Having always been the irresponsible type, my mother didn’t seem to have a problem with telling this story to her young, impressionable daughter.

When she was finished, I’d asked, “But, Mama, why did you name me after someone so sad?”

She’d giggled at me and tugged on my ponytail. I didn’t particularly like having my ponytail tugged, but I allowed it from my mother. I was her best friend, her only friend, perhaps, and so I gave her certain best-friend liberties. “I named you after Deirdre of the Sorrows, my darling,” she’d answered in her melodic voice, “because it is a beautiful name, a strong Irish name. But the name doesn’t mean anything, my Deirdre.
Deirdre lived the life she did because of the choices she made. You are Deirdre Clements, not Deirdre of the Sorrows. The name means nothing, darling.” My nose had then been tweaked, an action on which I had the same opinion of ponytail tugging.

I’d nodded agreeably, eager to please, but even then I disagreed with that final point. It seemed like me that Deirdre hadn’t had any choices; she’d been fated, predestined to live the pattern that she did. And later, when I’d found out that the name Deirdre meant “sorrow” in Gaelic, my opinion on this matter had only been cemented: from the moment of her birth, the first time she was named, the Deirdre of myth was destined to spend her days in sorrow.

My mother was wrong on another point as well: I was not merely Deirdre Clements, though that was the name I bore.

I am Deirdre of the Sorrows.
***
Beep! Beep! Beep!

I responded to the angry call of the alarm clock by pulling the blanket over my head. On the other side of the room, Katy jumped from her bed with great energy, for the first and last time this year. For every day from now until mid-June, with the possible exclusion of graduation day, I would be the one to face the harsh green light that spelled out my sentence: 6:00.

My duties were relieved from my shoulders, however, on this, the first day of school, in deference to Katy’s excitement. Me, I didn’t see what was so interesting about it. The first day of school was just like any other day, except you had to stress over what unpleasant surprises teachers would throw at you for the next one hundred and eighty days. And, sure, studying gave me something to do with my over-abundance of time, but it still wasn’t exciting. Certainly it wasn’t grounds for leaping out of bed.

The blanket not being exactly the best shield against the shrill assault designed to wake me, it was a relief when Katy finally made it stop. My relief—which soon would have been accompanied by a slip back into dreamland, had I been left undisturbed—was short lived, due to an attack of a different kind. If my blanket did a poor job at protecting me from sound, it was even more a failure at stopping light. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to burrow deeper into the pillow.

This, apparently, was not behavior acceptable to Katy. “Deirdre! Wake up!” she sang shrilly, with alarming proximity to my ear. “Summer’s over! It’s the first day of school!” All her eagerness may make it hard to believe that within the week, she would be whining about schoolwork, and longing once again for vacation time. I, however, have had the experience of living nearly nine years in the same room as my cousin, and have been taught the contrary.

Instead of responding to this behavior—it wouldn’t do to teach her that she can get things without saying please—I clenched my fists around my comforter. It was awfully snuggly and warm inside my blankets, and it was most likely chilly in the house. Besides, school didn’t hold any appeal for me. Unlike the entire rest of my class, I didn’t think that senior year would be any different than freshman, sophomore, and junior years were.

I was only given the half-second’s warning of a knee’s pressure on the side of my bed before my comforter-shield duo was ripped from my body. The cool air hit me like a shot, causing me to pull up into a sitting position and reach for the blanket, which Katy was keeping far from my grasp. Clever girl had learned all my tricks.

Sleepily I slumped forward, defeated. “Are you awake now?” Katy asked, too cheerful on the whole, peering into my face. I shook my head drearily, brushing the hair from my eyes with the back of one hand. Morning is a cruel mistress.

“I thought you were,” Katy sang, apparently taking my denial as a confirmation. “Get up and get ready, Deirdre. It’s the first day of school.” It was almost as if she hadn’t said this already.
***
Needless to say, I did eventually get out of bed, despite my deepest desire to simply not. Sleeping was peaceful and painless, two adjectives that weren’t easily applied to school. My sole motivation for wakefulness was that the sooner I got this early morning routine established, the sooner it was that I would feel only a dull ache of exhaustion, instead of a sharp pain.

When I made my way down the stairs some twenty minutes later, dressed with my hair and teeth brushed, my Aunt Mo had pancakes waiting. Somehow I’d managed to forget that my aunt shared her daughter’s opinion on the first day of school. I sank into my customary kitchen chair, across from my Uncle Mack who was sullenly reading the newspaper. Perhaps it was because he and I were related by blood—Uncle Mack being my mother’s older brother—that Uncle Mack shared my utter disdain for anything and everything that happened before the sun was up.
He and I sat across from each other wordlessly, each eating pancakes at our own paces, while Aunt Mo—short for Maureen—moved with immeasurable grace around the kitchen, flipping batter about with precision.

As I continued forward steadily and a bit queasily—I was never much one for a large breakfast, but I knew that Aunt Maureen would be offended if I didn’t have at least one—my yet empty messenger bag slung at my feet, Katy and Molly bounded down the stairs with, well, boundless energy, chattering eagerly.

“Do they really have Freshman Friday?” Molly squeaked nervously. Katy merely smiled mysteriously. “I hear that they shove the freshmen in their lockers the first Friday of school, and make them wait there until the janitors hear them. And then, if the freshmen can’t remember their locker combinations, they’re stuck until the guidance counselors come back in on Monday.” This was the most ridiculous rumor I had ever heard—guidance counselors didn’t have anything to do with lockers—but Molly genuinely seemed to believe it. I tried and failed to remember being so gullible upon starting freshman year.

Aunt Maureen put down yet another plate of pancakes. If memory served me, we’d be having pancake peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for the next week or so; Aunt Mo always over estimated when making batter. “There’s no such thing as Freshman Friday,” she soothed. “And don’t let your brother hear you talking about such nonsense, or you’ll get him started worrying already.”

That was true enough; Jack was our resident worrier, more like his father than mother, but he was also only starting eighth grade, which meant that he was still sleeping, which made me jealous.

“Way to ruin the fun, Mom,” Katy complained, rolling her eyes and hefting her stylish faux-designer backpack. During the conversation, she had bolted down a single pancake, and was now glancing at her watch with creased brow. “Let’s go,” she said to the room at large.

Glancing at my half-empty plate, Aunt Mo bit her lip. “Won’t you be hungry, Deirdre?” she asked me as she handed a brown bagged lunch to each of the three girls in front of her.

“No,” I answered plainly, bending down to reach my bag. By this point, both Katy and Molly were at the door, having thrown a hasty, “Bye Mom; Bye Dad” over their shoulders. I lifted the flap of my slouchy bag, tucked my lunch inside, and then trailed behind my cousins.

Still fretting, Aunt Maureen followed. “Won’t you be hot in those clothes?” she fluttered, looking as if she were about to kiss my forehead, or pat my cheek, or perform some other equally maternal action. I sure hoped that she didn’t.

“No,” I answered again. One would have thought by now that my aunt had grown accustomed to my regular outfit, but this appeared to not be the case. I had, after all, worn my customary black-shirt-and-dark-wash-jeans combo throughout the summer, despite the Pennsylvanian heat.

Mornings were simply easier when I had a makeshift uniform.

She looked prepared to ask me yet another question—a railing assault against my decrepit backpack, perhaps—but Uncle Mack interrupted her. “Let the girl go, Maureen. She’s going to be late for school.” Aunt Mo turned to him with a reproachful glare. “Goodbye, Deirdre,” he intoned, returning to his newspaper.

While my aunt was otherwise occupied, I escaped to the driveway, where Katy and Molly waited. “Could you be any slower?” the elder of the two sisters asked plaintively, leaning against the car.

“Probably.”

Katy merely rolled her eyes and jumped into the driver’s seat with an exasperated snort, slamming the door behind her. Molly climbed into the passenger seat, leaving the back for me. I entered obligingly. After making sure that everyone was buckled in—Katy was most likely the most meticulous driver that I’d ever met—Katy pulled out of the driveway, expertly maneuvering past the neighbor’s garbage can, which had rolled into the street.

This car was Katy’s baby; she’d been saving up for it ever since she’d first gotten her permit. This summer and the one before our junior year, she had worked ridiculously long hours at a summer camp, sleeping in tents and enduring bug bites just to turn a buck. I couldn’t imagine being at the beck and call of fifteen ten-to-twelve year old children for twenty four hours a day, for six weeks, but my economic demands were much less. My mandatory summer job had been, since freshman year, at a local bookseller, stocking shelves. And, instead of blowing all my earnings on a automobile that I didn’t need—there was nothing around that I couldn’t walk to—every penny I’d earned had gone towards
college, only a year away.

I leaned my head against the window, watching the scenery flick past. At least the sun was up now, but that innocent pleasure would be gone by approximately mid-October. But still, the daylight made is possible to pretend that it wasn’t quite so early. It may have been lying to myself, but it wasn’t exactly a real lie, so that was fine.

“—and I’m so worried that I won’t be able to find my classes. Jessica told me that if you’re late, even on the first day, you get detention.” Molly’s skittish anticipation was partially irritating, partially endearing. Thinking about it, I supposed that freshman year had been somewhat more exciting than all the others, even if all the made-for-TV-movie clichés had proven false.

Katy laughed at her sister’s naïveté. “You don’t get detention, Mol,” she reassured, no longer playing the part of mysterious insider; now she was the knowledgeable contact. “Not in the first few days. If after a few weeks you’re stupid enough not to have figured out where everything is—and you will, it’s easy—then maybe some really nasty teachers’ll give you detention. But you’re fine for now.”

“I don’t even know where my homeroom is!” Molly wailed.

Fog was covering the football field as Kelly pulled into her much-coveted parking spot with precision. It was pretty, but it would be burned off by the summer sun soon enough. Already the day was relatively bright, considering that it was only seven in the morning and all.

“I think your homeroom is close to Deirdre’s. What homeroom’re you in?” Katy turned the key in the ignition, and the comforting rumbling of the engine died beneath me.

“Two hundred fifteen,” Molly replied after digging through her backpack for her schedule.

“Deirdre?” Katy inquired, turning to look at me.

“Two thirteen.” I didn’t need to look at my schedule. I have a good memory.

Katy clapped her hands together once, like a child presented with a new toy. “There you go, then, Mol. You can follow Deirdre.” Clearly my year was kicking off to a momentous start.
***
School was noisy. Having spent the last three months in a stockroom by myself had gotten me adjusted to silence. After that, coming back into an environment that contained nearly three thousand adolescents, aged fourteen to eighteen, was like being woken up in the monkey pit of the zoo. In fact, a zoo was a good description for the whole thing.

Surely these people had seen their friends at some point during the summer, hadn’t they? One would think, judging from the shrieks of, “You look so tan!” and “Omigod, I missed you so much!” that they hadn’t. But, unless the world was playing a giant trick on me, friends did things like hang out and see each other over the summer months. This kind of noise simply wasn’t necessary.

Thankfully, my schedule was filled to the brim with Honors and AP courses, which meant that as soon as I entered a classroom, the chatter of the spider monkeys I went to school with decreased in pitch and increased in intelligence. Though, the discussion of what they had each learned at Harvard Summer Camp that year—as opposed to gossip about who had hooked up with who—was both less annoying and more. I don’t know how I ever thought that school would be relieving in its regularity.

But, for my classes at least, the bell would then ring, and everyone would quiet down so they could hear what requirements each teacher had, save for a stifled groan when we found out that we had to do oral translations for French every morning, or that for each lab in AP Chem we had to do a formal lab write up. I was not among the groaners.

By the time third period Poetry Crafting had rolled around, I had more or less had enough. For the past three hours I had sat silently, reading the spec sheets that were passed out to me, and ignoring my peers while they scribbled furious notes. I couldn’t fathom what they were writing down, as it had been handily typed out and given to us by even the most hard core of teachers. I had written down a thing or two per class, but I was finished long before everyone else, and I wrote so much more slowly.

But for Poetry Crafting I had Ms. Moreno, who also happened to be the advisor of the Middletown High School’s literary magazine, Memorandum, which also happened to the only extra-curricular I had ever bothered joining. Ms. Moreno knew me, which was relaxing, because she knew that just because I didn’t raise my hand didn’t mean I didn’t know the answer. She knew my poetry, and had a relatively high opinion of it. She may even like me, for all I knew. She was the only teacher who I could think of going to for a college recommendation letter.

Her welcome lecture was the least stupid of all the ones I’d had to listen to so far. Instead of talking about getting-to-know-you, she dove right into the parameters of the class. Unlike my others, this class wasn’t full of Harvard-Summer-Camp-goers (those kids all took AP Physics for their elective); this class consisted mostly of the “emo” kids, or the “art nerds,” the quieter group that, while they talked, didn’t so much prattle. It was refreshing, that, and the fact that I knew most of the faces in the room—all but two—because many were Memorandum staff, and the rest had taken poetry classes like these with me since they were first offered.

“Deirdre,” Ms. Moreno whispered to me on my way out of the classroom, “come by after school this afternoon and I’ll give you the new staff list.” I nodded once, as if I hadn’t known this already. The big event of the first day of school for the lit magazine staff was the release of the officer positions; it was a big deal to see if you had gotten the job that you’d so coveted. It was assumed by general consensus that I’d be Editor in Chief for this year—I was the only student of my year to have started Memorandum at the advent of freshman year, I had held an officer position since sophomore year, and had been production manager (literary magazine code for second-in-command) the year before, being the only junior in memory to claim a typically senior position.

Ms. Moreno smiled at me, and I made my way to AP Calc, to merge once again with the Brains. The noise of the hall wasn’t as numbing as it had been, so presumably I was adjusting. The spider monkey’s voices seemed to be less a single mass, and I could pick out individual conversations.

For example, after sinking into one of the chairs in the back of the room in Calc, I absently tuned into that of the two girls in front of me. “…he’s in my second period, and again in this class, and my God, he’s gorgeous,” said the first, a brunette with Shirley Temple style curls.

The second—dirty blonde—sighed dramatically. “New boys never show up around here. Did you get the scoop on him?”

Brunette nodded. “He’s an athlete, and on the newspaper or something.”

Dirty Blonde gave an appreciative mmmmm. “Sport?”

“Cross country,” Brunette grinned wickedly. Was there some odd cross country significance that I didn’t know about? Sometimes I wonder if I even live on the same planet as everyone else. Either I don’t, or I’m missing the popular culture gene.

Groaning, Dirty Blonde flipped her flatteringly-cut pageboy. “I love athletes. All those muscles…” I find it on the whole difficult to communicate with my gender, I really do.

They continued on this vein for a while, discussing the school’s various athletic programs and how “hot” they considered the participants of this sport to be. There were six minutes between classes, but Poetry Crafting was close. If this obnoxious, insignificant nonsense was a preview of what I would have to spend my year listening to, clearly some sort of greater power was conspiring against me.

The bell rang, and the room became mercifully silent, dependable honors students that we are. The teacher stood up from where she had sat at her computer, and leaned against her desk to address us, stack of spec sheet handouts at the ready. Just as she had opened her mouth to speak, the door creaked open, and a boy stuck his head in sheepishly. He was one of the two unknowns from my Poetry class.

Brunette’s arm shot out to claw the wrist of Dirty Blonde, in a grasp that looked like it hurt. “That’s him!” she hissed—unnecessarily, in my opinion. Ms. Evened cocked an eyebrow, and beckoned to the boy with her stack of handouts, flagging him into the room. He obeyed. “Let’s hope that this isn’t an indication as to what can be expected for the rest of the year,” she said airily, as if her comment had no direction. I disliked her already.

Having plunged into the closest seat, presumably as to not disrupt the class further, the boy spread his hands in an apologetic gesture. “Sorry, ma’am, I got lost.” He ducked his head, as if to say “meaning no disrespect.” I had to hand it to him, the “ma’am” was a nice touch.

Ms. Evened wasn’t having that, though. “One would think,” she snapped, no longer pretending to be speaking to the class at large, “that by senior year, you would know your way around the school.”

The boy shrugged. “I’m new,” he offered. Well, that accounted for my not knowing him. He wasn’t yet part of the poetry clique.

With a dissatisfied hmph! Ms. Evened turned back to the class at large. She was a bit bitter, wasn’t she, for someone who was only maybe twenty five? But then again, hardships aren’t mutually for the old, so I may be too quick to judge.
***
The school in the state of near deserted was how l liked it best. It wasn’t creepy, like an empty school would have been, and it wasn’t as crowded as during the day. If not for all the residual stress from classes, it would be almost peaceful.

Residual stress was what I was feeling as I strolled back to Ms. Moreno’s classroom after school. So far, my experience with Psychology was exactly one day old, but I could already tell I was going to hate it. I hadn’t elected to be in Psychology, even though it was technically my elective. It just fit my schedule. Actually, they’d (they being the Powers That Be, aka Guidance) originally wanted me to take Child Development, but I’d refused. I don’t think I’m mistaken in saying that no parent wants me near their child. Not that I’m irresponsible, or anything.

When I got to the room, Ms. Moreno wasn’t there, so I sat down in my usual desk and started my Psychology homework. Now, while some individuals (my cousin in included among these) might consider it cruel and unusual for teacher to assign homework on the first day of school, it was something I’d become accustomed to. High-level classes meant a high-level workload, which ate up time, like I wanted it to. Psych wasn’t my only class with homework, either—I’d been given assignments also in French, AP Chem, and Calc.

Ms. Moreno sauntered in a good ten minutes after the final bell—good thing my ride wasn’t waiting for me. Neither of us much bothering the other, I began to patiently pack up my books while she rifled through some files to find the list that I’d been dying to see all summer. Well, maybe dying is a bit extreme. But I did want to know what it said.

She passed it off to me, and I scanned my eyes down the list that was handily alphabetized. There were only three names before mine: Abbot, Branwen, Brody. Then, me. Clements, Deirdre: Production Manager. For a moment I was confused, thinking she had handed me last year’s list, with last year’s jobs on them. But, no, Liz—last year’s editor-in-chief—wasn’t on this list.

I turned my eyes to Ms. Moreno in a baleful stare, and waited. One of the things that I liked best about Ms. Moreno was that she understood me as well as she needed to, and knew that I – well, that I didn’t talk.

Well, that’s not strictly correct. I speak. If someone asks me a question, I answer. It would be rude not to. But I don’t really say anything unless I am asked a question. I just didn’t really see the point.

When Ms. Moreno didn’t notice me immediately, I looked back down at the paper to see who had been the beneficiary of what was obviously a mistake. It took me a moment—the jobs weren’t in order—but I found it just the same: Morrison, Bane: Editor-in-Chief. Who was Bane Morrison, anyway?

If I hadn’t thought that this was a mistake before, certainly I did now. I didn’t recognize the name Bane Morrison, and as Production Manager last year, I had made up the staff lists. He was probably just a freshman.

I stood up and went to stand at the foot of Ms. Moreno’s desk, so to stare at her with more efficiency. This time, she noticed me almost immediately. Well, good. This magazine being one of the few things I really cared about, I wanted this fixed. “Is there a problem, Deirdre?” she asked, sounding genuinely concerned.

“I’m production manager,” I muttered. Ms. Moreno flushed slightly. She knew about all of this nonsense?

“Well, congratulations Deirdre!” she exclaimed with false enthusiasm. “Production manager is an excellent position, and you should be very proud.”

I cast my eyes back down to the list in my hands. “Bane Morrison?” I asked, only slightly bitterly. At least if I wasn’t going to get the position I deserved, someone who almost deserved it should. Not some clueless newcomer who had only learned what a literary magazine was three weeks previous.

Ms. Moreno shifted uncomfortably. Well, if she didn’t want to have this conversation, maybe she should have given everyone the jobs they deserved. I probably hated confrontation more than she did. “He’s very well qualified, Deirdre, so don’t worry that the magazine will suffer. He has some excellent ideas, and wants to do big things with Memorandum.” As if good ideas and qualifications beat out hard work and loyalty. “And you don’t exactly talk during meetings, Deirdre. I have no guarantee that you could conduct them. Bane is very charismatic, I think. You’ll like him.”

Somehow, I doubted this. If someone who had worked on a literary magazine before had the gall to walk in and ask for editor-in-chief, I probably wouldn’t like them. Particularly because they had received said position. And that position should have been mine. But I didn’t say anything to Ms. Moreno. I just turned my head, shouldered my bag, and headed for the door. That was fine, though; I doubted she’d expected anything else, from me, anyway.

Just as I’d laid my hand on the doorknob, it was jerked out from under my hand, to reveal Dirty Blonde and Brunette’s “gorgeous” boy, the athlete from Calc and Poetry. I stepped aside to admit him, and he gave me a smile and nod of thanks.

Probably he was here to switch out. Poetry and cross country seemed to be a bit like oil and water, at least judging from the significant lack of athletes to take poetry in the far side of forever. Well, in any case, it wasn’t my problem, or my business. “Hey, Ms. Moreno,” said the boy, causing her to jump a little in her chair—she hadn’t been paying attention.

I put out a hand to catch the door, which was slowly swinging closed, when Ms. Moreno called out, “Deirdre, wait.”I paused, turning my head in response. She flapped a hand at me. “Come here, silly girl.” I let my hand drop, and sidled closer with an inward sigh. I made my way forward until I stood in front of her desk again, hands clasped loosely behind my back.

The boy looked at me quizzically, one eyebrow raised. That’s right boy, stare, why don’t you? “Deirdre,” Ms. Moreno said with a cheerful tone so forced that I knew what was coming had to be bad. “This is Bane Morrison. Bane, this is Deirdre Clements, your production manager.”

I did a full turn to look at him. This was the editor-in-chief, the bozo who had seen fit to steal my job? He was still in running shorts, for goodness sake! And what kind of name was Bane, anyway? I, on the other hand, have an actual name, of which I know the root and history. Take that, Bane.

He stuck out his hand, and I was so surprised that I actually took it. “Nice to meet you,” he said politely. I nodded once. He released my hand, and slowly I let it fall back to its place by my side. Yet, his eyes never left mine, each silently assessing the other. Already I was certain that most of this year’s responsibility would fall to me—like last year, when Liz had gone to France during final production—and that I would be in charge in everything but title.

Ms. Moreno stood and we both turned back to look at her, him, easily, me, kind of reproachfully. I could at least see what she meant about the charisma. She seemed more relaxed with him in the room, and he was clearly relaxed, leaning against a bookshelf—very blasé. Too bad I seemed to be immune.

“Why don’t you tell Deirdre about your plans for Memorandum, Bane?” Ms. Moreno suggested easily. “I’m sure she’ll be invaluable help to you—she knows how to put out a magazine unlike anyone else.” Strange, wasn’t it, how Ms. Moreno was defending my position in this dispute?
Bane’s cool detachment melted into enthusiasm. That was unexpected. Who would have thought that an athlete could summon an interest for art and poetry? Still, I harbored no doubts that for him, this was nothing but just another check that he could put on his college applications.

“Well,” he began, spreading his hands out in front of him. For the first time, I noticed two sizeable booklets in his hand. “I have here a copy for each of you of my old magazine.” He handed one to Ms. Moreno, and put the other down in front of me when I made no move to take it. It seemed that Ms. M had warned him about me, or something. That was both flattering—I was a force to be reckoned with—and insulting—she thought I would be difficult enough that I deemed a warning.

I looked at the magazine in front of me. There was no title, just a quote: “The man who tries to do something and fails in infinitely better than the man who tries to do nothing and succeeds.” Well, wasn’t that charming.

“It was a monthly publication,” Bane explained. Without turning my head, I shifted my eyes up to him. “Every month had a different quote.” Unless I’m very much mistaken, he grimaced slightly at this. I agreed—how ridiculous. “And, while I wouldn’t think to touch your title, I would like to change one thing to match my old magazine.” Of course he would.

Both of the people in the room seemed to be waiting for me to speak. Apparently this was some sort of test, for me as well as for Bane, to see how this whole deal was going to work out. Well, I wasn’t going to get angry. It wouldn’t help, and besides, I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction.

“Tell her,” Ms. Moreno squeaked excitedly after a moment.

Bane shrugged. “Well, I’d like to make Memorandum monthly, as well. I’ve seen the issues, and I think it can be done. Particularly last year’s spring issue—fabulous.” He fluttered his hands around in a makeshift sign language, indicating at myself and Ms. M at seemingly random intervals. “I want to channel that talent and turn it into something that’s as big in this school as it was at mine.”

Rather than replying, I set my bag down at my feet; all my new textbooks were getting heavy. This actually made sense, now. Ms. Moreno had wanted to make Memorandum come out more often than bi-annually for as long as I’d been working on the magazine. She’d suggested it to Liz and me last year, but we’d insisted that it wasn’t possible, not with the number of submissions we were getting. Though she surely didn’t see it this way, Ms. M had seen her dream come knocking and had sacrificed me for it.

“Any questions, Deirdre? Comments?” Ms. Moreno asked me as if I were a first grader. Although, I supposed her question was justified. I wouldn’t have offered an opinion, or asked anything that needed asking, if I hadn’t been prompted for it. How else was I supposed to know that what I had to say was actually wanted?

I reached out and picked up Bane’s magazine. It was thicker than Memorandum typically was—I wondered how they’d possibly gotten enough submissions in a month to fill this many pages. If this Bane character wasn’t a marketing genius, his idea was going to crash and burn. But if it worked… I nearly smiled. If it worked, we’d have something really good happening.

“We’d have to start soon,” I offered, mentally calculating how quickly this was going to have to get done if we wanted a publication at the end of September. Ms. M smiled beatifically—I was her best –and she knew it, despite this miss-assignment of roles— and I was in.
***
“Oh, there you are, Deirdre,” smiled Aunt Maureen the moment I walked through the door. “How was school? Did you stay after for Memorandum? What job do you have this year, love?” It remains a mystery to me how Aunt Mo always knows what’s happening in my life. I seriously suspect she might be clairvoyant. Because I know that I don’t tell her, and I don’t know who else could.

I put my bag down on one of the kitchen chairs, nearly sighing in relief. One of the worst things about having a messenger bag is that the weight isn’t evenly distributed, and it cuts into your shoulder when you’re carrying heavy things. It is a sacrifice I make, though, because I really do like my bag. “Production manager,” I answered my aunt, deciding that the one answer was enough. It established that I was at Memorandum, and was a direct impact on how my day had gone, and how it would go for the rest of the year.

Aunt Maureen nearly dropped her spatula in excitement. In my mental picture of Aunt Mo, she’s always baking because, honestly, she’s almost always baking in real life. She runs a small business making really beautifully intricate (and delicious) cupcakes and cakes, which she sells to catering businesses and local families when they’re having parties. And, when she’s not baking something for work, she’s just baking things for us, because she says baking relaxes her. “Production manager is good, isn’t it, love? Second in command or something like that?”

I nodded once, but Aunt Mo wasn’t looking, so I replied, “Yes, second.”

I didn’t mention how I should have been first, or that I had been stabbed in the back by the only teacher that I’ve ever really liked, or that I would almost certainly be left out of everything, which certainly wasn’t fair seeing as I’d put together the entire spring issue single handedly last year.

Even though I knew for a fact that the cupcakes Aunt Mo was making were for work, she handed me one, because she knew for a fact that those type—chocolate cake with chocolate icing, with her pretty spun-sugar flowers on top—were my absolute favorite. I accepted it without
argument.

I made my way upstairs, with my cupcake and my book bag, and sank down onto my bed, across from where Katy was happily chattering into her cell phone. I didn’t have a cell phone because what would I have done with one? I could hardly remember the last time I’d spoken on the phone. I began to peel the paper off my cupcake.

“And Daniel looks so good, Netta.” Annette was Katy’s best friend, who went to the s(*&%$#$$%%y private school across town. “Just wait until you—aah!” She had spotted me. “Deirdre has a cupcake. No fair!”

I bit into my cupcake, and opened my Psychology book. What was there to do besides study?
***
The next day was better, even though I did have to turn off the alarm myself. Aunt Mo didn’t make pancakes, so I didn’t have to eat, so Katy didn’t get mad at me for being so slow, because I was outside first. Which meant I had time to prepare myself for the noise, which meant that it wasn’t such a shock (I was getting used to it already), which made my day better.

Of course, I also didn’t have the hopeful anticipation of becoming editor-in-chief, but that meant that I didn’t have the disappointment of finding my hopes to be in vain. And by this point, everyone was starting to feel the exhaustion of summer, so the exuberance level was down a notch or two. Besides, it was really hot—a point of irritation for me, causing my apparel to be an open button-down over a t-shirt, both black per my usual—and nobody really wanted to move or talk or, really, be in school.

During third period, as I was working on our first assignment of the year (write a poem using a simile or metaphor—easy), someone laid their hand on my arm. I turned in my seat to see that it was that Bane boy sitting behind me, a friendly and welcoming smile on his face. “Want to meet up during lunch—you do have second lunch, right? Ms. Moreno said you did—to talk about getting started on the magazine? In my old school, we started during the summer, but I didn’t meet you until yesterday, so we have to get working fast.”

I stared at his hand on my arm. It was bad enough that he had come in and taken my job, but now he was touching me? My nose wrinkled ever so slightly at his skin’s contact with my sleeve, as if it might melt away, leaving my arm exposed. Bane followed my line of sight, and pulled his hand away. That taken care of, I turned my eyes up to his. He had oddly blue eyes, for a brunette. They were a rather pretty color, I had to admit. “Want to meet over lunch?” he asked again.

I really would rather not have met with him over lunch. I had been planning on doing my French homework over lunch, so that I didn’t have to take my rather heavy book home that night. And, if the discussion of Brunette and Dirty Blonde yesterday was any indication, my sitting with Bane at lunch might lead to people asking me questions, and that wouldn’t be fun.

I nodded once, and turned back around.

My pencil was in hand again, but I couldn’t concentrate on my poem anymore. Bane had distracted me, and I couldn’t get back into it now. And, oh great, I had to have a “meeting over lunch”. Who called having lunch together “meetings”, anyway? But maybe this would turn out to be good. Maybe I could explain things to him, and then he would leave me alone. I had trained the entire rest of the world to ignore me; why shouldn’t I be able to do the same with Bane. The thought was a comforting one.
***
The odds of my beating Bane to the cafeteria were nearly nil, considering we were coming from the same place. I had on my side the fact that I knew this school like the back of my hand, and Bane had only been haunting it for one day. He had on his side the fact that—the constant thorn in my cousin’s side—I walked slowly. And besides, I’d had to go to my locker. I wasn’t going to beat him there.

And, because I wasn’t going to beat him there, which meant that I would have to go sit with him, I was going to be made to look like his subordinate. Even though I technically was his subordinate, I didn’t want him to have that idea fixed in his head.

Or, maybe because I would most likely be making him wait for me, I would look really important, like so many people wanted to have lunch meetings with me that I could keep one or two of them waiting if I wanted to. Of course, this really wasn’t the image I wanted to give off, either. I wasn’t particularly eager to have Bane cut me out of the magazine completely because he thought I was nasty and self-important.
But, probably I was just over thinking this whole thing. I have this tendency to over think. I think (there I go again) that this is because I keep all my thoughts inside my head, instead of letting them out. I’ve been told that saying things aloud helps you sort them out, but I’m not entirely sure I believe it.

My brown paper bagged lunch in hand, I made my way down that final stretch of hallway, with its endless and timeless dull green lockers. I looked out over the sea of students, feeling that it must be impossible to find a single face among them. Brunette was the most common color of hair, being the most dominant in the gene pool, I knew courtesy of AP Bio last year. And Bane didn’t have any really discerning physical features, despite apparently being “gorgeous.”

“There you are,” said a voice in my ear. My eyes widened—I was startled at the voice’s proximity—but I’m proud to say that I didn’t jump or squeal or any of that other nonsense that I’ve seen other girls do. I turned slowly to see Bane, standing at a reasonable distance, leaning down towards my ear slightly. He had been looking for a reaction, I could see. Disappointment shone through assessing eyes.
I made no move to respond, and Bane’s open smile wavered ever so slightly. Before me, I knew, I had a boy that was used to being liked. He had charisma, and a bright, friendly personality. He was used to winning people over, and was angry that he couldn’t get me. Are you willing to step up to the challenge, Bane Morrison?

He made a gallant gesture at a nearby table, which had two open seats across from each other. “Shall we?” he asked in an overly proper tone. If I had been the giggling type, I may have giggled at that. But, as things stood, I merely sat where he had indicated, putting my lunch on the table between us, yet making no move to open it. Bane, it seemed, didn’t have lunch, or was going to go buy one.

“I forgot lunch money,” he explained, answering my unformulated question. Silently I pushed my brown sack towards him; it wasn’t like I was going to eat it, anyway. I wasn’t often hungry. I pulled the hand I had used for this wordless offering back into my lap. “Oh, no,” Bane protested. “I couldn’t eat your lunch.”

I said nothing. Even if he didn’t eat it, I wasn’t going to, and then it would just go to waste. I didn’t much care either way. Pancake-peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches aren’t exactly my favorite. A couple of minutes of silence passed, Bane fidgeting with nervous energy. I sat in infinite patience—sitting still wasn’t something that bothered me. In fact, I was an expert. I could sit without moving for hours.

“You don’t do much of anything, do you?” Bane asked suddenly. I didn’t move—I was already watching him, though, so it was okay. In my head, this had become a competition: Who Could Move the Least. I was winning by a landslide. Again, this was okay, since Bane didn’t seem to need much prompting. “You don’t talk, you don’t move, and you don’t eat, either. Do you do anything, Deirdre?”

Well, there was a direct question. I was going to have to answer, which meant I had to move. So much for my competition. “I do speak,” I said quietly. I think I disliked Bane already.

Bane snorted, reaching for my lunch. I’d known he was hungry. “Fine, you talk. And I guess you move sometimes—you walked here. And you must eat sometimes, otherwise you’d be dead. But you don’t talk much. And you move so slowly.”

Observant little thing, wasn’t he? At least he clearly thought he was, if that self-satisfied look meant anything. So what? It didn’t take a genius to notice that I was pretty quiet, and that I didn’t waste my energy with stupid little twitchy movements. And the eating comment was just so grossly misconstrued that it didn’t even merit a response, even inside my own head.

He narrowed his eyes, watching me. “You only answer questions,” he said slowly. Wow, that was actually pretty good. I definitely disliked him. “You don’t talk unless it’s to answer a question, do you?”

“Not really,” I replied truthfully. So what if he thought I was a basket case? The entire rest of the school already did, so it wasn’t like I was facing anything new. I could deal with Bane’s judgments.

He pulled out my sandwich. Well, I supposed that it was his sandwich now, seeing as I’d given it to him. “That’s going to make it a bit difficult to work together,” he said with the genteel mien of a Southern gentleman of old. “I mean, if you won’t talk to me, it will be hard to get things done. I can’t put a magazine out by myself.” I didn’t see why he couldn’t. I had.

He took a bite of the sandwich, and then looked down at it in surprise. “What kind of bread is this?” he asked, staring at the sandwich like it had sprouted legs.

“Pancakes.”

Bane was seemingly impressed. I don’t know why—pancakes as bread is a rather disgusting transition. “That’s delicious,” he muttered. Liar. He looked back up at me. “It’s also progress. You’ve now said three words to me in exchange for the hundred or so that I’ve said to you. The ratio is improving.”

He wanted movement from me? I would give him movement; I narrowed my eyes into a malevolent stare. He was so obnoxious. And “gorgeous.” So why did I, the only girl in the school who had no appreciation for that, have to get stuck with him? This is yet another sign—one of many—that my life is so deeply unfair.

Just then, Katy plunked down into the seat next to me, providing an excellent reason to just ignore Bane. Uncharacteristically, my typically boy-crazy cousin ignored him, too. Perhaps, then, he wasn’t as “gorgeous” as Dirty Blonde and Brunette had led me to believe.

“I just wanted to let you know that I’m staying after for practice, Deirdre,” she said, not addressing the presence of Bane at all. It was extremely childish, I knew, but at that moment, I really loved my cousin. Take that, Mr. Editor-in-Chief. I could have snapped my fingers at him so easily at that moment. “I already got Molly to get a ride with someone, because I didn’t want her taking the bus, and I would let you drive yourself home, but I need some way to get home.” That was sweet of her, to consider offering up her prize to me. “Promise me that you won’t take the bus.”

Katy didn’t like it when I took the bus because I always sat in the seat across from the crack head, and she was afraid that he was going to sell me drugs, or slip something into my drink (her idea, not mine—because what would I ever be drinking on the bus?), or something equally heinous. Personally, I just liked sitting across from him because he was always too high to ever attempt to make conversation. Which is why I really hated it when he got drug tested and got suspended for two weeks. Katy loved this, because she was actually a very sweet girl, all in all, and seemed to genuinely care about my well-being. She’d always been like this, really.

I was about to insist that I could walk home—which probably wouldn’t be the most fun experience of my life, seeing as it was ninety degrees outside and I was dressed all in black—when Bane interjected with, “I’ll take her anywhere she needs to go.”

We both turned to look at him, Katy whipping around, I turning more slowly. So maybe Bane’s observation about my moving slowly had been accurate. I preferred to think of it as having some modicum of physical restraint. Bane shrugged, looking like he considered us nuts. “What? It’s not a big deal,” he protested.

“Who are you?” Katy demanded. I recognized the signs; her motherly instincts were kicking in, and she wouldn’t pawn me off to just anyone. I was her charge as much as her cousin, the way she saw it sometimes, anyway, and she would ensure that I had a way to get home.

Bane stuck out his hand and Katy shook it, looking at me oddly. I shot her back a look that said I understood—Bane was a weirdo, wanting to shake everyone’s hand. It was very polite, sure, but also extremely odd. Katy raised an amused eyebrow before turning back to Bane. We’d perfected the art of unspoken communication years earlier. When you spend half your lives living in the same room, these things just happen, I suppose.

“Bane Morrison,” he introduced himself. “I work with Deirdre on the literary magazine.” Katy looked at me, and I averted my eyes, as if to say, ‘whatever.’ There were worse things than being driven home by Bane, I supposed—like walking. Walking would have been thoroughly unpleasant. And, besides, how much could he bug me in the ten-minute drive home?

Katy shrugged. My acceptance was good enough for her. “Thanks then. And nice to meet you…Bane.” I got a sick sort of glee at the fact that she paused before his name. Because it wasn’t really a name. “I’ll see you at home, Deirdre.” I nodded once.

“Your sister seems nice,” Bane offered when Katy had walked away. I didn’t bother to correct him. What did it matter, really, if Bane thought that Katy was my sister instead of my cousin?

When I didn’t make any move to answer, Bane leaned forward, elbows on the table. By now he was done with my sandwich, and had pulled a cupcake from the bag. If I’d known there was a cupcake in there, I never would have given him my lunch. “Here’s the thing, Deirdre,” he said in all seriousness, usual smile gone. “I need you. You’ve been here for four years, and you know how this magazine works. You know everyone on it. You know where we’re going to get willing work, and where we’re going to have to beg for submissions. You’ve got everything that I don’t.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “In fact, the only thing that I’ve got that you don’t is that I talk.” Clearly he didn’t know about the charisma. “What I’m saying is that you’re gonna have to work with me on this one. We can work on this together, right?”

I turned my head away, settling my gaze on one of the school’s many murals. After a few seconds of this, I heard Bane sigh. It probably would have been more mature of me to say something like, “Okay, Bane (which is a weird name), we can do this together!” or some other peppy comment. But I wasn’t entirely sure I was up for talking. This pseudo conversation with Bane was the longest I’d had in a while, and I’d only said, what, three, four words? Anyone I who knew me also knew that I didn’t really talk, and so didn’t engage me in conversation. I didn’t think I could go reverse Cold Turkey like that.

The bell signaling the end of lunch rang, and I hefted my bag onto my shoulder. Bane crumpled up my lunch bag, having finished the chocolate cupcake that should have been mine, and tossed it in the garbage can on the way out the door. “I’ll meet you outside the front doors three minutes after school’s done,” he said. Then, he seemed to reassess the speed at which I was moving. “Five minutes.”

I nodded once, as per my usual.
---------------------
Love,
Gracey :elmo:

Edited by Ari-san, 31 December 2008 - 11:28 AM.
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#2 peanut_butter

peanut_butter

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Posted 09 March 2008 - 10:11 PM

Part Two
-----------------
By the time I had spotted Bane, lounging against the brick wall of the school, right where he’d said he’d be, I had made my decision. Never mind that it had taken me the entire afternoon to make up my mind—it was all very easy and rational when I thought about it logically. I genuinely cared about Memorandum. Bane genuinely wanted it to succeed, and even improve. Bane had charge of the magazine, yet could not work it without my help. Therefore, I had to work with him. It was perhaps not the happiest conclusion I’d ever reached, but it made an unpleasant sort of sense.

So I would try. I wasn’t promising anything, but I would try. Maybe we could start things off with a simple, makeshift sign language. Or we could pass notes. Or send emails. Really, it was the whole idea of talking that I wasn’t too happy about. I hadn’t really talked in—well, I’m not sure exactly how long. Three or four years, maybe? It was just easier to not talk, I’d learned.

But evidently Bane wasn’t going to leave me alone until I got over that and started talking. Some people are just so pushy.

“Hey,” he greeted me when I approached him. I nodded. So sue me. I was easing into this, not plunging in head-on. I would say something when it was beneficial for the magazine, for now. And answer questions. I personally was of the opinion that two criteria under which I would speak was quite enough. He jerked his head towards the senior parking lot, and I followed.

Bane seemed to have trouble keeping up with me—or, rather, with keeping back with me. Perhaps it would have been nice of me to speed things up a little, but if I was going to be made to talk, then he could at least learn how to walk at my pace. He swore under his breath, and I shot him a malevolent glare.

“Sorry,” he muttered, “but is it even possible to get anything done, at this speed?” Bane, I remembered, was a cross country runner. He most assuredly liked things done at the highest possible speed. Well, too bad. Speaking of which, though, shouldn’t he have practice? In my experience—which consisted of a cousin on the cheerleading squad—sports teams had practice every day.

“I manage just fine,” I replied haughtily. Stupid runner. Although it was amusing, to see him struggle so with simple walking. He looked like he was trying to emulate the slo-mo effect from the movies.

“Sorry,” he repeated. I nodded once, in acceptance. We rounded one corner of the building—halfway there; good, I was sweltering in my jacket—in silence. Then, he asked, “So, what are you doing this afternoon?” Maybe he was just trying to be friendly, but couldn’t this boy shut up for more than thirty seconds? I would seriously have to teach him the merit of silence.

I really wanted to take my jacket off, and I could feel the top of my head getting hot. Why couldn’t I have been a blonde? And where was his parking spot, anyway? Outer Mongolia? “Nothing,” I snapped, feeling my irritation increase by the second.

“Perfect,” Bane exclaimed. Wait, what? “Then you can come to my house so we can get started on the actual magazine.” What? No! “Ms. Moreno gave me the password to the email where people can send in their submissions, and I have one or two on paper, too. I’m not supposed to give you the password, but I’m going to anyway.” As if I didn’t know the password—I set up that email account. Evidently Ms. M had forgotten that in her game of How Many Ways Can I Overlook Deirdre?

But that wasn’t the issue. I was not going to Bane’s house. “You said you would take me home.” Wow, that was a full sentence. And I said it without it being an answer to a question. I feel like I should be getting some sort of brownie points for that.

Bane arched an eyebrow. “Congrats on talking without being prompted.” Facetious brat. “Does that mean you’re not going to be stupid and work with me?”

“Yes,” I answered sullenly.

He grinned suddenly. “Awesome. In celebration of that, we’ll go to my house and start work on the magazine. What do you say?”

“People will be worried.” This is me, still sullen.

Bane sighed, like I was the densest thing he’d ever met. “What’s your phone number? I’ll call and let them know, brat.” He pulled a cell phone out of his pocket. Pouting, I gave him the ten digits. I don’t know why I did. Maybe I realized the futility of trying to get out of it.

“Hello, Mrs. Clements? Oh, Mrs. Donnelly, so sorry. Yes, this is about Deirdre. No, no, she’s fine. I’m Bane Morrison, editor-in-chief of Memorandum. Yes, this is about the magazine. I was just calling to let you know that Deirdre is going to be coming over to my house to work on it—if that’s alright with you. Yes, we’ve decided that, this year, it will be a monthly publication. I’m surprised she didn’t tell you; it’s rather big news. Of course you can talk to her, Mrs. Donnelly. She’s right here. Nice talking to you, ma’am.”

He handed me the phone. “Here you go,” he muttered sweetly. I took it, glaring up at him through the fringes of my bangs. I put the phone to my ear.

“Deirdre, love?” Aunt Mo was asking nervously. “Are you there, Deirdre?”

“Yes,” I answered with an inward sigh. I didn’t like this. I didn’t like phones. And I really didn’t like Bane.

Aunt Mo sighed. “Oh, good. You’re going to this boy’s house to work on this magazine? You want to?”

“Not really.” I felt dismal at best.

Aunt Maureen recognized my bleak tone. “But you have to?” she teased laughingly.

“Yep.”

“Alright, sweetheart, come home when you can. That boy said you’re doing more issues of the magazine this year? Well, good luck with that, dear. It sounds like it’s going to be hard work. I’ll see you later. I love you. Bye.”

I pulled the phone away from my ear and looked at it, not entirely sure how to hang up. I’d never used a cell phone before. The only reason I could use a regular phone was from watching Katy do so day in and day out. But with this, I was out of my league. Bane took it from my hand and flipped the two hinged parts shut. Now, why didn’t I think of that?

Bane smiled at me, seeming non-sarcastic. “See how easy that was? Now, let’s get going so we can get some real work done, shall we?” I considered both of those questions to be rhetorical.
***
Out of force of habit, I climbed into the backseat. Bane looked at me oddly. “What are you doing?” Why was it still so hot in the car? Actually, I think it was hotter. I was positively sweltering. If I was an egg, I’d be crisping around the edges.

“Sitting,” replied I, oh so intelligently. Weren’t cars supposed to have air conditioning? And Bane’s car seemed relatively nice, not that I knew anything about cars. It wasn’t fancy looking, but it wasn’t a Junker, either. So why, pray tell, was it so hot in here?

Bane ran a hand through his hair. Good move, smart man. Now your hair is just sticking up all over the place. It looks pretty silly, not going to lie. “Can you sit up here? I’ll feel like you’re grading me or something if you sit back there.” That was one of the dumbest things I’d ever heard. I always sat in the backseat.

Pouting, I got out of the car, walked around in the sun and got in on the other side. The engine spluttered to life beneath us, less smoothly than did Katy’s car. I got pleasure in the fact that I owned something (even though I technically didn’t own it) that worked better than something of Bane’s, since Ms. Moreno had judged my brain to be second rate.

I leaned my head against the window, which was significantly less comfortable than it would have been in the backseat, mind you, and directed my sulking to the outside. It wasn’t fair that stupid Bane was charging in here and taking charge. This had been my magazine, and my life, and he had no place in it. And, to top it off, he thought he could make me talk?

“So,” Bane said conversationally as we pulled out of the parking lot. By my judgment, he seemed to be a good driver. And I did have my license; one of the few demands Uncle Mack had ever made was that I pass my permit and then driving test, feeling that it was something important for every high school student. “Your mom doesn’t have the same name as you. Did she remarry?”

I gritted my teeth. “No.” He’d better not start in on my mother.

Bane turned a corner, this being the first one not along my route home. And it was going, going, gone. It figured that he’d live on the s(*&%$#$$%%ier side of this town. Let me guess: he got whatever he wanted? Although, his car spoke of different backgrounds. “Really? Then, is Donnelly her maiden name?”

“Yes.” And, as Uncle Mack’s sister, technically my mother’s name had been Donnelly.

The window, which had originally been cool against my skull, was starting to heat up. I shifted my head to another, cooler, spot. “Why does she go by her maiden name, then? Professional reasons?”

I winced inwardly, though I’m sure my face remained passive. “Why” questions were surely the worst; it was impossible to dismiss them with a one-word answer, which was surely Bane’s intent. Why couldn’t I have been given a stupid torturer? “She doesn’t.”

“She introduced herself as Mrs. Donnelly, though.” That wasn’t a question. I was exempt. After a few seconds of this, Bane caught on and sighed. “It’s really annoying having to phrase everything as a question, you know. Why did she introduce herself as Mrs. Donnelly?”

“That was my aunt.” My voice was hard, warning him not to go any further. He didn’t heed the warning.

“Why did you give me your aunt’s phone number?”

“I live there.”

“Why?”

Did he have no sense of personal boundaries? “None of your business!” I snapped, squeezing my eyes shut. I had talked more today than in
the past six months. I hated it.

For a few minutes we drove on in silence. I kept my eyes closed, feigning sleep…or maybe death. It didn’t really matter which, so long as this Morrison boy wasn’t speaking to me. Huh, I could call him Morrison—maybe that would put some distance between us. But Morrison had two more syllables than Bane. Never mind, then.

The car halted jerkily. I kept my position precisely—I had a lot of practice in simply not moving. One might even call me an expert. “Deirdre?” Bane asked quietly. He sounded genuinely apologetic, as though he sincerely regretted his intrusion. “We’re here.”

I opened my eyes to one of the most classically beautiful houses I’d ever seen. It was clearly from the Victorian era, with a turret. Yes, a turret. It was easily twice the size of my house. It had a wrap-around porch. I glared at Bane belligerently.

“What?” he asked, shocked.

By the way, I win all staring contests, too. “Does anything come hard to you?” I answered his questions with one of my own.

He took off his seatbelt and turned to face me in full, running both hands through his medium-length shaggy black hair. “What are you talking about?”

I could feel a slight flush rising to my cheeks with my anger—curse those Irish genes! I clenched my fists, nails biting into palms. My temper receded a little with the pain. “Does anything ever go wrong for you?” I snapped. Okay, so my temper wasn’t completely overcome.

Maybe my tone was a bit much; for the first time, Bane’s expression grew hostile. “Do you have a problem with me, Deirdre?” Somehow, he managed to make my name sound like an insult.

“Yes!” shouted I. I was breathing heavily, shaking with fury. There was only so far he could push me before I snapped. And when I snapped, it was really ugly.

“Why?” roared Bane in return.

Could he possibly not know? “Why? Are you stupid? You saunter in here from God knows where and steal my job and try to make me change the way I’ve been my entire life! I was perfectly content with the way things were before you came in and started meddling, you stupid, stupid boy. And then you expect me not to be angry when you turn out to have everything? People like you already; everyone apparently thinks you’re ‘gorgeous’, and then you have this perfect house and perfect life and you took my job!”

Forget the past six months—that was more than I’d said since I’d started high school. Or middle school, maybe.

Bane slammed his hands on the steering wheel. My fists were clenched so tight, I couldn’t even feel the pressure from my nails anymore. “Don’t delude yourself into thinking you know anything about my life, brat. Do you want to know why we had to come here today? Yeah, my sisters. Lindsay has Down syndrome. Natalie can’t ever stay after school for anything because she has to come home with her. My dad used to be home, but guess what? He freaking left my mom. Now it’s just her, taking care of three kids.”

“I haven’t seen my mother in nine years, Bane. Nine! When you’ve gone that long, then we can talk, understand me? “I shrieked.

This was greeted by silence. The only sound that could be heard was my breathing, heavy to the point of near-sobbing. I bent my head, causing my hair to fall forward to cover my face. From this position, I could see traces of blood along my fingernails. I hadn’t done that in a long time.

I’d never told anyone about my mother before. Anyone who’d needed to know had already known. I felt tears form in the backs of my eyes and blinked them away. “I’m…sorry, Deirdre,” Bane muttered. “No, really I am. I can’t imagine what I would do without my mom. I guess that’s why you live with your aunt.” I offered no reply to this, and for once, he didn’t ask me for one.

The numbness in my hands was receding, and being replaced by a dull ache. Well, no matter; I’d certainly had worse.

“Deirdre?”

“Deirdre?”

“Deirdre?”

On my third bout of non-responding, Bane reached his hand under my hair and tipped my chin up. Normally, my reaction to this would have been to pull away immediately, but for this once, I didn’t. I had no particular reason why—instinct just didn’t tell me to break our point of contact. “Are you alright?”

I nodded once, the movement both answering and pushing Bane’s hand away. I leaned against the window again, hands still shaking.

Flickering memories of my mother—and the pain of losing her—were flashing through my mind, like some perverse slide show.

Suddenly Bane grinned, though I failed to see what was so humorous about the situation. “So, everyone thinks I’m ‘gorgeous,’ eh?” I nodded. “Do you think I’m gorgeous?” he asked mischievously.

My eyes narrowed. “No,” I snapped. I didn’t get over my tempers as easily as he appeared to.

Chuckling, Bane reached over to unbuckle my seatbelt, as I’d made not move to. “Let’s go inside, brat.”

For a moment, I considered resisting, but then decided it simply wasn’t worth it. Bane wasn’t like any of the other forces I’d been pitted against in the past; he wouldn’t back down from the challenges I presented. True to his name, he was quickly becoming the bane of my existence.
And to think, I’d only known him one day.

So I shuffled along behind him dourly. Perhaps it wasn’t the most mature way to behave, but I supposed I’ve never been the most mature person in that way. After all, my way of coping (which had failed, by the way) was to go on a reign of self-imposed silence.

Bane unlocked the door and pushed it inward, glancing behind him to make sure I was following. My outburst seemed to have prompted a bout of protectiveness from him, an issue I hadn’t anticipated. I hesitated at his doorstep—when was the last time I’d been invited to someone else’s house?—and he reached back to guide me forward by the sleeve. I tugged it out of his grasp.

“Nat, Lindsay, I’m home,” he called out. I trailed uncomfortably behind, not used to being in environments I didn’t know cold. “We’ll go into the kitchen,” he informed me. I nodded once.

However, we were cut off by the squeals of two small girls, who came tumbling down the stairs at a speed I was almost certain I’d never achieved. “Bane, Bane!” they shrieked enthusiastically. I stepped to the side as they smothered him with a hug that he bent down to receive.
The two couldn’t have been more than siz—twins or close in age, I would have guessed. Even if Bane hadn’t shouted it to me in the car, Lindsay’s condition would have been evident. There was a look about her eyes that suggested it, and the way her tongue poked forward slightly. I knew the symptoms from AP Bio.

“Natalie, Lindsay, this is my friend Deirdre,” Bane introduced me. Three pairs of equally blue eyes turned on me; I quailed a bit under their intensity.

“You’re pretty,” Natalie complimented me. False flattery won’t get you anywhere with me, girl.

I nodded my acknowledgment. I would have left it at that, if not for a flash in Bane’s eyes. “Thank you, “I whispered. Natalie smiled a gap-toothed smile at me.

Then, even more unexpected, Lindsay stepped forward and wrapped her arms around my waist in a hug. I bent down to receive it even without prompting from Bane. I only got so far that my shoulder was level with the top of Lindsay’s shoulder. I mean, at five-six I’m pretty tall, and this girl was tiny. She smiled at me as she stepped back.

“Alright, alright,” Bane laughed when she had let go, “enough torturing poor Deirdre. Go play, you two.” He assessed my reaction with worried eyes. His protectiveness of his sisters was evident.

Natalie giggled, as if this were the hugest joke ever. “Okay. Let’s go, Linnie.” Lindsay scampered up the stairs after her sister obligingly.
Echoing down the stairs I could hear Natalie, and then a voice that I could only assume was Lindsay’s chant, “Bane’s got a girlfriend! Bane’s got a girlfriend!”

Bane let out a slightly embarrassed snort. “Sorry about them. They’re six and seven and have this issue with personal limits.”

“S’okay,” I muttered. Look at me, talking without being prompted. How impressive am I?

“That’s why I have to book it home, though. As it is, they still get home a few minutes before me, and I can’t let them be home by themselves
on the days my mom is at work.”

We passed through a wide hallway, with what I could only assume was a living room on one side and what was obviously a kitchen on the other. It was, however, an item in the former room that caught my eye.

His grand piano was gorgeous. I stopped dead to admire it, seething with jealousy. My second hand keyboard had played its last this past summer, and was now rotting away in some dump somewhere, used beyond repair.

Bane had come up behind me when he’d realized I’d stopped following him. “You play?” he asked, low and into my ear. He hadn’t yet given up trying to surprise me. Clearly the boy should realize that this wasn’t happening, ever. I nodded once.

“Go ahead, if you like,” he offered, shrugging. “I’m going to go get something to eat.” How could he possibly be hungry? He had eaten my lunch.

Zombie-like, I made my way over to the piano. It was really lovely, like the one that the man at the music store always let me play. Unlike my keyboard (which had been really useless, even before it had stopped working) I doubted that this piano would have a broken middle C.

I put my hands in place, and started playing a nice, slow nocturne. If I had a hobby, playing the piano would be the one I would choose. I closed my eyes and let my fingers feel their way along—I’d played this song enough times that I could feel the keys. Besides, it was easier to play when I was just hearing the sounds.

“That’s really pretty,” Bane commented from immediately behind me. I didn’t stop playing. He had gotten his food—a peanut butter sandwich, if my nose served me correctly. “You’re one hell of an interesting girl.”
***
And so it started. As things turned out, Bane had come to us from the Literary Magazine of the Nazi Regime—you had to go through an audition of sorts to get in and there was no general staff. Every submission was decided upon by the editor-in-chief, with occasional assistance from literary and art editors.

It took me a while to drill into him that we did, on occasion, have fun with Memorandum. Once he understood this (for a while he seemed to think I was playing a joke on him) he took it up with great vigor, although there was a tense moment at the first meeting when someone called out, upon Bane’s introducing himself, “Who the hell are you? Where’s Deirdre?”

Luckily, though, I had been off to the side, and all it had taken was a finger to my lips for the speaker to fall silent. Maybe Bane did need me in that respect; I may not have spoken more than two words to any of them, but the staff knew that I knew what I was doing. It was really nice to have them indignant on my behalf.

My visits to Bane’s house were frequent and lengthy; to my vast disappointment, neither of our guardians seemed to mind. Mrs. Morrison steadfastly asked me to stay for dinner every time she saw me, and seemed truly sorry each time I declined (which was every time). In a similar way, Aunt Mo seemed infinitely pleased that I spent so much time with Bane, and told me often to invite him for dinner. She was elated that I was making friends at last. What she didn’t know, however, was that my interpersonal relationships were restricted to Bane and his sisters, and that we weren’t friends.

It seemed, however, that I could never get away from him. He had chosen the seat behind me in both Poetry and Calc—seemingly only to annoy me (he was irritatingly fond of poking me with things and tugging my hair—an attempt to make me move, he admitted). After I had been putting up with his antics for nearly a month, a note flew over my shoulder during Calculus.

You do realize that we have exactly one week to put out a magazine, don’t you? it read in Bane’s scrawled hand that looked so appropriate when it was marking errors on poetry. Steel yourself, comrade.

I thought about this for a moment. Either Bane was on some serious mind-altering controlled substances, or he didn’t belong in AP Calc BC.

It’s September twentieth, I wrote back. We have ten days. Which still isn’t a lot, but it’s a lot better than a week.

I dropped the note back over my shoulder when I was almost sure that Ms. Evened wasn’t looking. It wasn’t long before I received an answer. We have to get it out three days before the end of the month. That’s the rule we used to have, anyway. Don’t argue.

That’s silly, because it deprives us of three days. Luckily, you have me on your side, and I have personal experience in single-handedly producing an entire magazine in a week. Don’t lose hope just yet. It was easy to talk through notes. I might even go so far as to say it was fun.

You’re fun in notes. What I was saying, basically, is that you’re coming over today.

My sense of humor tingled (yes, I have one. Don’t hurt yourself). Maybe I have plans, I teased.

Oh, yeah? Like what? Need I remind you, brat, that you don’t actually like anyone? My supreme deducing skills had led me to quickly figure out that Bane only called me brat when he wasn’t actually angry with me. When he was really mad (which happened with probably an unhealthy frequency), he just used my name a lot.

I may have a date.

HA! What a jerk.

I’m insulted. Yet, for the good of the magazine, I will come.

I’m flattered. Really, really flattered.

I hate you.

You keep telling yourself that, sweetheart.

I hid the note under my books. These moments, the moments when Bane clued me in to the fact that he could see right through me, scared
me. It was only a matter of time before he knew too much. Any information he had could be used against me.
***
One thousand thirteen, one thousand fourteen, one thousand fifteen…

We had been working for nearly five hours. Since the count of one, I’d been sitting with my head in my hands and eyes closed. Bane had yet to notice; he was too engrossed in re-checking the grammatical mistakes in some freshman’s prose. I’d been playing this little game with myself all afternoon, to see just how long it would take my editor to notice this each time. Over one thousand was record breaking.

One thousand twenty-two, one thousand twenty-three, one thousand twenty-four…

“Alright, this one is done, on to the next.” Huh, almost thought that I’d lost there, but Bane was just talking to himself. He’s the biggest nut I’ve ever met, in that respect. But then again, I was pretending to be asleep instead of working on the school laptop that Ms. Moreno had only been too happy to let us take to Bane’s house, once we’d explained the situation.

One thousand thirty-five, one thousand thirty-six, one thousand—“Deirdre?” Blast.

I opened my eyes to meet Bane’s stressed glare. His level of panic had increased exponentially with every passing day—it was now Friday, and Monday was his self-imposed deadline. In his ultimate insanity, he wanted to go to school tomorrow (I was included in this plan, by the way) to print everything. I may have been the resident basket case, but Bane was stark raving mad.

“Are you working?” I nodded once, and turned my fingers to the keyboard. As production manager, I was supposed to pull all the poems and things together, and Bane had relinquished the duty in its entirety. He didn’t even demand to see my pages as I completed them, like Liz had last year. Somehow he knew that layout was my area of expertise.

He groaned. “You type so slowly.” It practically drove Bane up the wall that I kept speed to a minimum. “Seriously, Deirdre, you’re like a tortoise. At this rate, you’ll never get anything done.” Huh, he’d called me by name. That meant he was actually angry.

“Done,” I muttered triumphantly. My timing could not have been better.

Bane turned a bit blue. I sincerely hoped I hadn’t killed him, even though he more or less was the bane of my existence. “You’re—you’re done?” he choked. I nodded. “But, but, how can you possibly be done? I have things still to go in.”

How questions were tricky. They usually required several sentences worth of explanation. “I have spaces set aside for them,” I muttered.

Something I’d never really noticed about myself before—the longer I’m going to have to talk, the quieter my voice gets. There was one notable outburst, er, exception to this. “I have the original drafts, and left room accordingly.”

At this, I flounced (well, if I knew how to move that quickly or jerkily, I would have flounced) over to the piano, where I spent every minute of my free time at Bane’s. I let the notes come as they wished, mind racing in the background to last year’s AP Music Theory class, which told me what would sound good, and what simply wouldn’t. Perhaps it wasn’t as complex as something composed by someone brilliant, but it didn’t sound atrocious.

Just then, Natalie climbed up onto the seat next to me. “Hey, Deirdre,” she chirped. According to Bane, Natalie really liked me. And I could believe it; every time I was there, she talked to me. Once, she brought me a cookie. Apparently this is a seven-year-old way of showing affection for your older brother’s subordinate.

More than that, I liked Natalie. I hadn’t ever spoken to her, but she seemed to be okay with that. In fact, I think she liked the fact that I listened, and let her blather on about whatever her sweet, seven-year-old mind came up with.

Now, I just continued with my unplanned playing as she chatted at me. “I was going to go over my friend Susie’s house tonight, but then Mommy had a meeting, so I can’t go. And Bane is working all the time, so Mommy said that maybe you would play with me, and I really, really
want you to, Deirdre.”

I opened my eyes. “What?” I asked.

Natalie giggled. “You talked. You never talk, silly Deirdre. But Mommy said that I can’t talk to you about it until she does.” She jumped down from the bench and flounced off. That is flouncing, Deirdre of the Sorrows. Take notes.

Some hours later, Mrs. Morrison came home. Since I had finished, my playing had only been interrupted briefly, when Bane finished doctoring a poem and needed me to put it in its place in the magazine. The whole process would have gone much more quickly if he’d only asked me to work on some—I was excellent with grammar; it had been my job to catch the mistakes sophomore year—but he didn’t ask, and I didn’t suggest it.

So, I was not actually working on the magazine when Mrs. Morrison called, “I’m home, everyone. Who’s playing the piano?” Instantly, I stopped playing, feeling like a child caught at a trick.

She stuck her head around the corner. “Oh, hello, Deirdre.” I turned to face her. “Please don’t stop on my account. Nobody plays the piano around here anymore. What is that you were playing?”

“Nothing,” I muttered.

Bane’s mother, like her son, was irritatingly fond of trying to make me talk. “Nonsense—it was lovely. Who composed it?”

My face turned bright red. “Me,” I whispered.

She clapped her hands together. I could see where Bane got his gesturing tendencies. “That’s so impressive! Please, play more!” So, of
course, I played my nocturne. I couldn’t come up with something on demand like that.

When I was done, she clapped, like I was her eight year old at a first piano recital, or something. Now, don’t get me wrong; if I actually liked people (as Bane had so kindly pointed out earlier) I would really like Mrs. Morrison. But the clapping was unnecessary and embarrassing.
When she was done, she came over and sat next to me on the bench. “That was lovely, dear.” Yes, she’d already said that. “It’s so nice to have someone playing around here. You’re such a nice friend for Bane.” I don’t know who you’ve been talking to, but we’re not friends, lady. I kind of hate your son. I tolerate him, but I don’t like him. “And the girls love you.” Point? “I was wondering if—and if you don’t want to, or if you have plans, don’t worry, because I can get Bane to do it—if you would babysit the girls tonight.”

Maybe the entire Morrison family had a bizarre brain parasite that had eaten all their common-sense cells. I mean, I’m the last person I’d ever want near my kids. I don’t think Aunt Mo ever even let me babysit Jack when he was littler.

Natalie came running around the corner, her socks slipping on the hardwood floor. She vaulted up into my lap, throwing her arms around my neck. “Please say yes,” she whispered into my ear. “We’ll have so much fun, and we can play with my dolls, and watch TV, and I’ll show you how to make cookies, and it will be so much fun. Say yes, Deirdre, please!”

“Natalie!” her mother scolded, laughing in the “children…what are you going to do?” sort of way. “Let Deirdre decide for herself.”

“Yes, Mommy,” Natalie said, looking far too innocent. “Linnie wants you to stay too,” she whispered to me.

“Natalie!” Mrs. Morrison insisted. Natalie jumped down, and ran out of the room. She gave me a kind smile. “She’s right, though. The girls adore you. And I would pay you, of course.” They must all be out of their blessed minds. Fortifying my college fund was an appealing prospect, though.

I nodded. “You will?” Mrs. Morrison asked, sounding delighted. I really don’t understand what this family likes about me. I nodded again. “Oh, thank you so much, Deirdre! I mean, Bane might be around, but I hate that he’s responsible for the girls all the time, and I don’t know anyone else to ask, around here.”

“Deirdre!” Bane suddenly shouted from the kitchen. “Calamity! Get in here before everything goes to dust!”

Mrs. Morrison grinned. “And I think Bane would be a mess without you.”
***
Sometimes I think not speaking is a real challenge. The key here was to get Aunt Maureen to ask me what I was doing tonight, so that she didn’t think I had a date or some other such nonsense when I went back to Bane’s. Also, I had to find a way back to Bane’s, period. But I wasn’t going to give up and just ask for it—that was cheating.

I was up to my elbows in ground hamburger, helping Uncle Mack with his special meatball recipe, while Aunt Mo made cupcakes behind us. This is the epitome of healthy behavior, in case you were wondering. Particularly since Uncle Mack kept trying to lick the spoon from the cupcake batter. Well, at least both things were yet to be cooked, right?

Cooking was really the only thing I did with my aunt and uncle. It was their catch-up-with-the-niece-that-we-brought-into-our house time. So, it was actually an excellent time to tell them about my babysitting that night (oh Lord, me, babysitting). The trick was to get them to ask the right questions. It really was lucky that I’d had all that speaking practice with Bane.

We’d already covered school and how the magazine was going (the simplicity of my life was truly remarkable) before getting around to Bane. “I’m so glad you’re spending time with that nice boy,” Aunt Mo commented. For every day that I’d spent at his house, Bane had insisted on walking me up to the door. It was overtly chivalrous, but somehow my guardians had read this as nice, and polite.
Well, he was polite. I would give him polite.

I made a noncommittal sound of agreement. “You two are getting along well, aren’t you?” Uncle Mack asked, when Aunt Mo elbowed him. Honestly, I hoped upon hope that I never married someone like my aunt Maureen. She was almost as bad as Bane, I swear.

“Yes, quite well.” If I was lucky, they would read into the fact that I tacked two words more than my usual on the end.

Aunt Maureen did, if her reaction was any indication; she turned around to glare at me suspiciously. “You two aren’t spending time in a social capacity, are you? I mean, it’s fine—it’s more than fine—if you do; I just want to know, Deirdre, dear.”

I rolled what was roughly my five billionth meatball. “We haven’t done anything that’s not the magazine yet,” I muttered.

Being a master deducer, Aunt Mo caught on to this, again. “Yet? You plan to in the future?”

“Not with Bane.”

Uncle Mack grew tired of the evasiveness. “Deirdre, what are you doing that relates to Bane, when, and with whom?”

Thank you, Uncle Mack. “His mom asked me to babysit tonight.” My voice was barely a whisper—maybe it was a hair louder.

“Babysit?” Uncle Mack echoed, as Aunt Maureen bounced excitedly.

“Oh, Deirdre, I’m so proud of you. Out of everyone in this town, they asked you to be their babysitter. You must have made quite an impression, my dear. Well done, sweetie.” I took this with an uncomfortable twist to my mouth.

“How are you going to get there?” Uncle Mack asked. “Would you like a ride?”

“Yes, please,” I muttered. Well, that was relatively easy. Ha, as if.
***
In the end, it turned out to be Katy who took me to the Morrison household at quarter to seven. She was surprised when I sat in the front seat—Bane had made this habit from me. It probably wasn’t good to let this boy start to dictate my habits, but what was I to do, really? It wasn’t like he was controlling my life.

“So,” Katy asked me as we crawled (it was raining, folks, and Katy was a safe driver) the main road, “are you and this guy… involved?” This surprised me. For one, Katy knew me better than anyone, and because of that (two) she should know that I don’t get “…involved” with people.

“No,” I answered, for once not speaking slowly.

She nodded. “I didn’t think so.” Well, that made sense. “It’s just that rumors are going around. People think you’re together. I hear it all the time. And I have a friend on the cross-country team. He says that Bane talks about you a lot.”

I made an mmm sort of noise. Bane talked about me a lot? What?

“Yeah,” Katy continued. “Daniel says that it sounds like he likes you. Do you think he likes you?”

That was quite possibly the most preposterous thing I’d ever heard. Bane liking me? The whole idea was positively laughable, if I laughed. I mean, he called me ‘brat’ all the time, and got angry at me with ridiculous frequency.

“No,” I said, as we pulled up into Bane’s driveway.

“No?”

“He definitely doesn’t like me.”

Katy seemed satisfied by this. “Alright. Mind if I walk up with you, anyway? I want to get a load of this guy without having to hit on him at practices.” She shot me a friendly grin, and I almost smiled back. Katy was fun.

“I don’t mind.”

I led the way up to the beautiful porch, ignoring Katy’s admiring mumbling. I pushed the doorbell with an inward wince. I really didn’t like being responsible for noise in any way. A few moments later, Natalie and Lindsay opened the door.

“Deirdre!” they shrieked in unison. Out of habit (okay, I had been trained) I bent down to receive their hugs. They really were very sweet girls.

Katy stepped up next to me. “Hello, girls. I’m Katy. Is your brother here?” Natalie burst into giggles, and Lindsay followed suit. Lindsay always did whatever Natalie did.

“Sure, he’s here,” Natalie confirmed, suddenly becoming a proper little hostess. “Come in, and I’ll go get him.” As soon as the door was shut behind us, though, she lost this modicum of decorum and ran off shrieking, “Bane, Bane, there’s a girl here to see you!”

Katy blushed slightly at this. Lindsay tugged on my sleeve, and when I looked down, she showed me a picture. It was sweet, but obviously drawn by someone with minimum abilities. It was mostly just squiggles, drawn haphazardly across and off a sheet of white paper. “For Deirdre,” Lindsay informed Katy solemnly.

Katy looked vaguely uncomfortable. She had spent the last nine years living with a basket case, but at least my issues were hidden. Lindsay’s condition was laid out, to be seen by everyone, and it made Kate antsy. “Thank you,” I muttered to Lindsay, giving her another hug. I swear, I was more touchy with these girls than I was with anyone else—probably anything else, including the clothes that I wore.

Just then Bane came in, looking curious. I think it says something about what a ridiculous amount of time I spend here that I knew what each of his facial expressions were. “What’s up, brat? You could have just come in if you were looking for me.”

Natalie jumped up and down at his side, full of seven-year-old energy. “Not her, Bane! The really pretty redheaded girl.” Katy flushed. Like me on my first visit here, she wasn’t prepared for the Morrison girls’ exuberance. Unlike me, she wasn’t so practiced at not doing anything about it.

“Hey,” she muttered. “Just wanted to say hi, since Deirdre’s been spending so much time here, and everything.”

Bane looked somewhat bemused, but he nodded. “Of course. And I remember you, from the—what, second day of school? That day when Deirdre and I had lunch, and I offered to drive her home.”

“That’s right,” Katy acknowledged, shrugging.

“You’re Deirdre’s sister, right?”

Katy shrugged again. “Nah, her cousin.” She turned to me. “Call me when you’re done—well, I guess have someone call.” Kate knew how I
felt about phones. “I’ll come get you.”

Bane held up his hands. “Fear not, gentle maiden; I will return your cousin to her home at the earliest possible hour. With luck, she won’t even turn into a pumpkin.” This was Bane being ridiculous. It was, I’d have to say, my favorite mood in him. It was funny.

He turned to open the door, and Katy mouthed at me behind his back, “He likes you!” I gave a single shake of my head. Katy was a conspiracy theorist when it came to relationships.

She followed Bane’s sweeping bow out the door, shooting me a conspiring grin before the door shut on her. Lindsay requested to be pulled up into my arms. I obeyed, and when I looked back up, Bane was giving me a funny glance. “What was that?” he asked. “The Spanish Inquisition?”

“She wanted to meet you,” I shrugged. It was no big thing.

He gave me a look that clearly said I was nuts. “Are you nuts?” Ah, there we go. “She was, I don’t know, testing me. Making sure I was good enough.”

“Maybe,” I replied brilliantly.

Bane simply threw up his hands in a defeated gesture—like he couldn’t deal with my idiocy any longer—and stomped off towards the kitchen.

Not having anything else to do, I followed , with Lindsay in my arms. She was so sweet, laying her head against my shoulder and singing little baby songs.

In the kitchen, Bane still had things situated in front of the laptop. He seemed to be, with great difficulty and immense speed, typing the remaining prose pieces into their assigned slots. That boy couldn’t work layout worth a whit.

“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” I hinted, suggesting that he should tell me what I had to do with the girls and then get out. Yes, be proud; I spoke of my own free will.

However, Bane didn’t seem to appreciate this Herculean effort. “No. I’m just finishing this up—ah, done—and then playing with you and Nat and Lindsay.” Natalie was over at the counter, having followed the whole troupe into the kitchen, baking cookies. Well, she had promised me, hadn’t she?

I was not satisfied with this turn of events. “Then why did your mom have me babysit?” I asked, genuinely curious. Maybe it was my earlier copious cupcake consumption, but I was being a bit loose-tongued. Read that, I was actually talking to Bane.

This, he noticed. “You’re talking like an actual human being, brat. I’m impressed. And she had you come so that I could be someplace else if I wanted to be. But I don’t.”

Solemnly, Natalie turned around. “Mommy told Bane that he could go out with his friends, and he said that all his other friends are stupid, and that all they do is go out and hook up with girls on Friday nights.”

“Natalie!” Bane exclaimed—obviously he hadn’t realized that his younger sister had overheard this; or, if he did realize, he hadn’t thought that she would repeat it.

“That’s what you said,” she replied in a singsong voice, turning back to her cookie dough.

Bane’s expression was so shocked, and so funny, that I nearly cracked a smile. “I apologize for my sister,” he muttered. “Whom I have apparently corrupted.”

“I’m not erupted!” Natalie exclaimed, turning around to plant her hands on her hips. “No cookies for you now, Bane!”

Her little face was so serious that I couldn’t help it—I chuckled a little under my breath. Bane, who had been looking at Natalie, whipped his head around to look at me, wide-eyed. “What did you just do?” he asked slowly, as if I had set him on fire or something. “Did you just laugh?”

Instantly, I grew serious. “Yes,” I answered dryly. Eat your heart out, Deirdre of the Sorrows.

“Wow,” Bane muttered. Then, in classic Bane fashion, he grinned. “You have a nice laugh.”

He stared me down until I answered. “Thank you.” There was a moment of silence before I asked, “So, really, why are you staying here?”

Bane whistled appreciatively. “Look at Deirdre, furthering a conversation. Like I said; nothing better to do. And I like you as well as the next person, so I figured that I might as well.” He shrugged. Then, he seemed to remember something, “Oh, right. My mom left directions. Nat and Lindsay can each have one cookie—that means one, girls—and then they have to go to bed. Her meeting is actually a ways away—not sure exactly where—but she said she’ll be home around midnight, and that she’ll give you your money then.”

I nodded once. Sometimes words had to be replaced by gestured. They just had to.
------------------------
Love,
Gracey :elmo:
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#3 peanut_butter

peanut_butter

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Posted 09 March 2008 - 10:18 PM

Part Three
------------------------
My mind was made up—I was never having children. There was only one hour from the time I had arrived until the time I’d put Natalie and Lindsay to bed—they had regretfully informed me that their bedtime was eight, under the watchful eye of their brother—and they had already tired me out.

First, we’d had to put Natalie’s cookies in the oven, something she couldn’t do herself. Then, Lindsay had needed a bath, which was weird. Natalie told me that Lindsay could wash herself, and that I just had to be in the room, incase… Well, I wasn’t exactly sure in case of what. But I had to be there.

After that, they had climbed into their beds—bunk beds—and asked for a story. This one, I admit, I’d fobbed off on Bane. I simply couldn’t talk for that long in one stretch. Then they’d wanted hugs and kisses goodnight. By the time Bane and I had crept downstairs, I’d wanted to strangle myself. And I realized that Aunt Mo had done this every night—and might very well still do it, with Jack—for years, and with four children. The thought made me a little nauseous.

Bane and I collapsed onto the couch downstairs. Well, he collapsed; I sunk into it, with a grateful sigh. “They’re little balls of fire,” he chuckled. I nodded an agreement. Sometimes, I was grateful that I didn’t have siblings. Although cousins were just as bad.

We sat through several minutes of semi-awkward silence, during which I was uncomfortably aware of Bane’s proximity to me. “So,” he asked eventually, his voice sounding hoarse, “want to watch a movie, or something?”

“Sure,” I’d allowed. I didn’t particularly like watching movies—I didn’t really ever watch movies—but it was an easy out. You weren’t supposed to talk during movies, were you?

Now that Bane and I had no common bind to unite us, no goal that we were working towards, it was harder to be with him. I’d thought that I’d finally gotten to a point where I was somewhat comfortable with him, but this situation was proving me wrong.

Flicking through the channels, he eventually landed on some odd romance movie that I was pretty sure neither of us enjoyed. About halfway through, I began to doze off—I’m a morning person. I’d always lived by the adage, “The early bird gets the worm.” Well, I didn’t really believe that I got anything special by getting up early. That’s just the way I was. Even in the summer, I never rose later than seven.

Somehow—and I’m not entirely sure how it happened—but I wound up with my head on Bane’s shoulder. I must have actually fallen asleep for a moment. But when I opened my eyes—I was just resting them, I wasn’t sleeping—he was looking down at me with an odd expression on his face. “Sorry,” I muttered, lifting my head reluctantly. Boy, I felt like someone had stuffed my head with cotton. I was tired.

Bane reached around the side of my head and pushed me back down. “It’s fine,” he soothed. “Go back to sleep. It’s fine.”

Well, what was I supposed to do to that? Of course I lifted my head. “No, I’m awake,” I assured him, even though I most certainly was not. “Did I miss the end of the movie?”

He laughed quietly. “Yes, and I’m jealous. It was awful.”

“Did everything turn out alright?”

“Yes.” I was more or less sitting extremely close to Bane—I could feel his body heat all up my side—but this seemed alright, for some reason.

I wasn’t as panicked by it as I normally would have been. Maybe it was because I was so tired. “I hate to make it go away by mentioning it, but you’re actually talking to me tonight. It’s nice.”

I shrugged. “I didn’t take a vow of silence. I talk when I need to.”

A piece of my hair was in my face. I brushed it away sleepily, and Bane made as if to reach for it, then changed his mind. “But do you talk when you want to?”

Again, I shrugged. “Yes.”

He hummed softly for a moment. Then he looked down, with me following his gaze, to our arms, lying next to each other, mine sheathed in a long black sleeve, as always. “Don’t you ever get hot in all those heavy clothes?” he asked, touching my sleeve lightly. Now that he mentioned it, I was sort of hot.

“Sometimes.” I slipped off the outer shirt that I had on, leaving just the tee shirt (also black) that I’d had beneath.

It didn’t take me long to realize something was wrong. Bane was looking again at my long, white (bite me Irish heritage) arms, in particular at shoulder to elbow area of my right arm. “Sweet Jesus, Deirdre, where’d you get that scar?”

In the fastest I’d moved in God only knows how many years, I had my jacket back on. I hugged it to me, like it was a security blanket, like I’d drown if I let it go. Bane inched away, giving me space to breathe. “It’s okay,” he muttered, soothing me once again. There seemed to be a pattern in all of this. “You don’t have to tell me.”

If there was anything I liked about this boy, it was that he gave me privacy when I asked it. Haltingly, I moved back over, closing the recently made gap between us, to signal that he was forgiven. Bane jumped up, as if scalded, and went to the kitchen to get the pages of the magazine that were due to print tomorrow. For the rest of the night, we went over them for a final, unnecessary time.
***
Alright, so Bane had seen my scar. That kind of information on his part I could deal with. He didn’t know where it had come from, so that was fine. I could deal. Yet, it became apparent from that moment forward that I would have to employ more caution than I had before.

If I had made this casual statement to your average person, they would have said, “But how could you be more careful? You already barely talk to the guy!” Believe me, it’s possible.

So, I reverted a little, answering questions with single-word answers whenever I could. And, I was surprised to find, this was difficult. My years of practice had been shattered by a single month with Bane. I still had no problem not talking to everyone else—in fact, I couldn’t have talked to anyone else if I tried. But I found that I wanted to tell Bane things, and that not talking was, in fact, exceedingly impractical.

Which is why, halfway through the month of October, despite bi-weekly staff meetings, we were way behind. Bane was starting to stress already, and hence on the fifteenth he demanded that we get to work as soon as possible.

“I can’t today,” I told him. “Jack’s birthday.” It was, actually, Jack’s birthday. I don’t lie—it’s rude. But I’m not saying I couldn’t have gotten out of dinner if I’d absolutely had to. I just didn’t want to.

“Fine,” Bane snapped, stretching. Mrs. Morrison had finally found a babysitter for Natalie and Lindsay after school, so Bane could go to cross country practice. And just in time, too—he was about to be kicked off the team. “Tomorrow, then.”

I blanched, but knew that I couldn’t give any reason than my legitimate one not to go. “Sure, tomorrow,” I muttered weakly.
***
The next morning, I woke up and put my most secret possession inside my shoe. I made my way through school numbly, still reeling from Aunt Mo’s special birthday cupcake, which she had presented me at breakfast, and I had thrown out as soon as I could without any of the Donnelley’s noticing.

I made my way to Bane’s house with minimal interaction, only answering direct questions. I could tell that my behavior was getting on Bane’s nerves, but I couldn’t stop it. Numbness was key.

My hands shook on the keyboard as I accessed the newest submissions—Bane’s marketing schemes, which I knew nothing about, were highly successful, and submissions had been pouring in at a ridiculous speed. This, of course, was not only good, but necessary; if we’d only received as many submissions as last year, we’d be out by January.

I was cold, and everything around me was cold. Yet, I was horrifically conscious of the scar on my arm, the only reminder I had of a past birthday. I pushed such thoughts from my mind, however, throwing myself into work like I never had before.

I would have made it too, if not for stupid Bane and his stupid friendliness. At four thirty, he announced us done, and made his way into the kitchen, announcing, “I’m just going to get a snack. I’ll be right back.” Being alone wasn’t precisely the situation I wanted to be in at that moment, but it was preferable to some others I could think of.

The whole thing might have been okay, setting a new birthday record for me, if what Bane had brought back hadn’t been a cake. “Happy Birthday, brat,” he exclaimed, looking immensely pleased with himself for hiding it from me for so long. He set the cake down in front of me with an over elaborate flourish. “I don’t have any candles, so you have to deal. But happy birthday.”

For a moment, everything went black. When my vision returned, everything was still in place; Bane still had his stupid, overexcited smile, the cake was still in front of me, and it was still my birthday. “Excuse me,” I muttered, and bolted into the bathroom, locking the door behind me.
My breath was coming raggedly, and my hands were shaking beyond control. I had to stop this, now, before I remembered things I didn’t want to remember. I shook off my black Chuck Taylor, and a knife clattered to the floor.

I picked it up with trembling fingers, glad that Natalie and Lindsay were out of the house. I didn’t want the slightest chance of them seeing this. This, what was the reason that my mother was wrong, when she spoke to me a decade ago—I am Deirdre of the Sorrows, whatever she may have believed. I am doomed to live the legacy of my name.

That day I had worn long sleeves straight, so I shrugged out of my shirt, leaving me only in my bra. Memories were starting to come back now, first in a trickle, then in a gush. The levees that I had built in my mind were always overcome by the flood of emotion that my birthday evoked.

Before the flashbacks could start, I jerked the knife’s blade along the line of my scar.

A lightning bolt of pain flashed through me, banishing all thought from my mind. But the relief was impermanent, wavering in and out with my agony. I knew almost instantly that I had gone too far in my panic, pushed my limits farther than they were supposed to be stretched. I clamped my hand over the cut, pressing futilely. It didn’t staunch the bleeding, only prompted another wave of pain. Yet, somehow, the memories still carried through. I should have known; they always did.

“Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me,” I chanted, giggling as if this were the funniest thing the world had ever heard. Maybe it wasn’t the most mature of behavior—even then I knew it—but I was nine years old today, and everyone knew that nine years was much better than eight. Nothing could bring down my euphoria, not even the knowledge that I was acting childishly.

To make things better, my mother was laughing along, flicking her eyes back to me as often as was safe while we drove. Honestly, the day couldn’t get any better. I was nine years old now, my mother was as happy as I was, and my birthday present was a party at Chuck E Cheez, something I’d been begging for. Even though it was only Lucia—my best friend—and me, it would be the most fun thing ever, I was certain.

“Happy birthday darling Deirdre,” my mom sang, cutting in on my song.

“Mommy!” I protested. “I wasn’t singing the song. I was just saying it.”

My mother nodded solemnly. “Of course, love.”

I doubled over with giggles—the move that would save my life.

Dimly I was aware of someone pounding on the door, demanding to be let in. “Deirdre?” it called to me frantically. It occurred to me that this was Bane, who had become worried when I hadn’t returned. Blood was still trickling through my fingers, in a stream that wouldn’t stop.
Voices echoed in my ears, telling me things I didn’t want to hear. “I’m sorry, she’s gone.” “Just a little girl… left all alone.” “Such a tragedy. The uncle is coming to pick her up.”

And, through that, “Deirdre!” coming from the present in a form less ghost-like than the others. My head was spinning red, the color of the blood coming from my arm, and I couldn’t respond to it.

“Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me,” I chanted, whispering.

“Sweetheart, what is your name?” Someone was talking to me, I realized through the pain in my arm. Some doctors had helped me, their white coats ignoring my questions—which was rude, Mommy had taught me—as they poked my big cut. It hurt. I wanted my Mommy.

They’d told me not to touch my arm, that doing so would make it hurt more. My little fist was clenched my side, so that I wasn’t tempted to try. “What’s your name?” the voice repeated, gently sweeping some hair out of my face. A pretty policewoman with a shiny silver badge sat down on the side of my bed. “My name is Mary.” I knew that; I was nine years old and I could read. “Now, can you tell me your name?”

“Deirdre of the Sorrows,” I muttered. This was the name I gave when I was being difficult.

Mary Policewoman smiled at me. It was a sad, tense smile, though. “Deirdre? What a pretty name.” That was all well and good, but my arm hurt and I wanted my mother. My eyes welled up and my lip trembled, like a baby’s. Mary held her arms open to me, and I climbed onto her lap, even though at nine years old I should have been too big for such things.

“I want my mommy,” I whispered. Mommy would make my arm feel better, and then she would take me to my party, and Lucia and I would play.”Where is she?”

Mary tensed. “Deirdre,” she said slowly, not knowing the news had yet to be broken, “your mommy…” she hesitated, not knowing how to say it. “Your mommy isn’t coming back. She went to someplace really nice, but she couldn’t take you with her.”

Through this ridiculous sugar-coating, I saw the truth. Dead; my mother was dead. Dead, just like Naoise. Yet, it couldn’t possibly be true. “She died?” I asked, my voice wavering.

Squeezing me tight, Mary said with a forced-to-be-strong voice, “Yes.”

Later they would comment how quietly I had cried. I hadn’t stopped, soaking Mary’s shirt right through until someone called her away with an, “Officer Stuyvesant? We need you.” But they hadn’t been loud, or even sobs, until much later, when they tried to give me to Uncle Mack.

By that time I had been moved. The hospital at Santa Fe was crowded that day, and every bed was necessary. So they took me to the police station, to wait. At that point, I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for. All I knew was that I was left alone, ignored, while I sat crying on a hard bench.

Eventually Mary came back. I balled my fists. I was angry with Mary, furious that she would leave me for so many hours, when I needed my mother. “Hello Deirdre,” she said in an inappropriately cheerful voice. “Do you remember your uncle?”

“Uncle Mack?” I asked tearfully. I only had one uncle—my mother’s brother.

“Yes!” Mary nodded enthusiastically. “He’s here for you, Deirdre.”

“NO!” I’d shrieked, so loudly that everyone in the room had turned to look at me. Mary jumped back, surprised. She hadn’t expected this reaction from a girl who had taken her mother’s death so well. “No, no, no, no, no, no!” I chanted, shaking my head with such ferocity that it hurt.

Behind everyone, on the far side of the big room, Uncle Mack came in, looking around frantically. When his eyes landed on me, he started forward. “No!” I yelled again, throwing my hands over my eyes. If Uncle Mack was here, then it was real. And it couldn’t be real. Any minute now, my mother was going to walk through one of those doors, maybe with a cut like mine, tell everyone how silly they were, and give me a big hug.

I wasn’t just shaking my head, now; I was shaking my whole upper body. Uncle Mack was in Pennsylvania, where he belonged, and my mommy was coming back. Someone picked me up, ignoring my protests of “No, no, no!” When I opened my eyes to push them away, I saw that it was Mary. I kicked and punched, in a frenzy.

When Uncle Mack came to be within range of my blows, I pushed off him, too. But, eventually, two adults were too much for my small self, and I ended up being held tight in Uncle Mack’s arms. He was, even then, a man of little words, and just held me tight as I pounded against his back.

I police officer to the end, Mary asked, “Is there some particular reason why she doesn’t want to go to you, Mr. Donnelly?”

Uncle Mack’s voice was strained. “Perhaps she doesn’t remember me. I haven’t seen her since she was six. Kathleen,” his voice broke on my mother’s name. He cleared his throat. “Kathleen couldn’t afford to come out east very often.”

“She didn’t start into this, this temper until she heard you were coming, Mr. Donnelly.” Mary’s voice was layered thick with implications.

Just then, I gave up. My fight was gone, used up. I wrapped my arms around my solid, staid Uncle Mack and sobbed into his shoulder, squeezing tight. These were well and truly sobs. My stomach felt like it had been wrenched inside out, leaving nothing inside me. And the hole inside me sucked at my shell, painfully trying to fill itself.

Uncle Mack didn’t rise to the pretty woman’s bait. “I’d imagine she’s just had a shock.” He cleared his throat again. “We all have. It’s been a grim day indeed.”

Mary must have acknowledged this, though I didn’t see. “Well, we have some questions for you, but I’ll start with ones about the child. She introduced herself to me as,” here was the noise of notepad pages being flipped, “Deirdre of the Sorrows. Any idea what that’s about?”

“None,” Uncle Mack said, stroking my hair.

“Right. And she’s been singing happy birthday to herself all day. Don’t suppose you know about that one, either?”

Uncle Mack swore quietly under his breath. This was the first and last time I would ever hear him curse. “Sweet Lord,” he muttered, “it’s her birthday.”

There was a click of the lock as someone tried to unlock it—the handle had one of those tiny keys that were impossible to use. The red haze clouding my vision cleared, yet the world was still red. Only, no… the bathroom was fine, it was just me that was red, and the ground beneath me. I was bleeding too much. I had gone too far and I knew it.

The door swung open—luckily for me, it swung outwards, otherwise my legs would have been smashed—and Bane shouted a certain bit of profanity that would have never graced my lips. “*#&$%%, Deirdre!” he yelled, as though this would make the situation any different. And then his hands were on me, wrapping my shirt around my arm, bringing on fresh waves of pain. From the angle at which my head hung—I couldn’t seem to move it—I could see Bane’s knees in a pool of blood. My blood.

He pulled me away from the wall, so that I was situated more or less between his legs, and at a better angle for him to staunch the flow of blood to my arm. I didn’t resist; I couldn’t. I couldn’t move, couldn’t resist, and blissfully couldn’t think. My goal had been reached.

I couldn’t tell you how long we sat there, with my head against Bane’s shoulder (where he’d put it) staring blankly in emotional numbness. But eventually the numbness faded, and the pain faded, and real life resumed, dragging me back into it.

Tugging gently out of Bane’s arms, I began to grope blindly through the pool. Where was it? I needed my knife. Bane stood, and I half rose to my feet, still feeling along the floor. My long hair was trailing along in the sticky mess, but what did I care? My fingers closed around something hard, and I stood up, leaning against the sink for good measure.

Bane was still holding on to me, his hands as covered as mine were. “What happened?” he asked, eyes wide. He was standing close, to steady me if I fell, I suspected. “What do you have there?” I tried to hide it behind my back, but I was weak with blood loss and he was faster than me.

The blade shone in his hand, and Bane nearly dropped it with disgust. “A knife?” he asked with wonder. “What were you doing with…” He trailed off, realization shining in his expression. “You did this to yourself?” he shouted, causing Deirdre to sway. “Are you insane? What the hell is this, Deirdre? Is this some bizarre punishment for some crime I don’t know about? What in God’s name are you doing to yourself, Deirdre?”

He was yelling at me. He was yelling at me, and asking me questions, and it was making my head hurt. What else could I have done? I punched him in the face.

Of course, this action caused Bane to stumble backwards, and was too much for my blood-less state, and caused me to pitch forward onto his chest in what was more or less a near-faint. Instinctively (I think), Bane’s arms clasped around me, and held me tight as my tears began to further dampen his already blood-soaked shirt. I realized, a bit belatedly, that I still was wearing only my bra, and tried to pull my shirt from my arm to put it back on. Bane was having none of that.

“Can you stand?” he asked me, his voice shaking with—something. Concern? Anger? I couldn’t know.

I nodded once. Already I was starting to feel better, and I knew the bleeding had stopped.

Bane took a step back from me, and held his hands close but not touching, the way a father might to his son learning to ride a bicycle—ready to catch him should he begin to fall. I, unlike my imagined bicycler, didn’t sway. He took another step back. “I’m calling an ambulance,” he muttered, almost disgustedly.

My uninjured hand shot out to grab his wrist. “No,” I whispered. “You can’t.” Maybe the panic in my eyes conveyed something to Bane, or maybe he didn’t think an ambulance was that huge of an issue.

“Any particular reason why I can’t?” he asked, tone dry. He was definitely pissed off now. Yeah, maybe concerned, but definitely pissed off.
I let go of his wrist—it looked like he wasn’t moving for the time being, and the sweater was slipping, beginning to reveal the topside of a huge gash. I really had overstepped the limit. “My aunt and uncle,” I muttered. “They can’t know. You mustn’t let them know.”

He narrowed his eyes, as if this were so severely against his better judgment. And, knowing Bane, it probably was.

“I feel fine now,” I insisted. And this wasn’t a lie… if fine meant better. I did feel better. And I was seeing things in regular colors, not just red.

Bane’s eyes narrowed further, until they were just slits. “Fine,” he said eventually, reluctantly. “I will keep your secret. But I have a question for you: Why?”

I cast my eyes down. “I can’t tell you,” I muttered. I looked at the pool of blood. From this angle, it didn’t really seem so big, or so ominous. “And I’ll clean that up,” I promised, moving to take my sweater from around my arm to, you know, wear.

“Don’t even think about it,” Bane snapped, giving my arm a warning glare. “I will clean that up, after I put a gigantic bandage on your arm. And then you will get in the shower, and wash yourself while I put your clothes in the washing machine. Then, you will wear whatever I find you while your clothes wash and dry, and you will keep your arm elevated above your heart. And you will help me scour this bathroom, making sure that there is not anywhere a trace of blood for my sisters to come home to.”

Ah, that last sentence was really a classic. For a moment there, I’d thought he actually cared. Still, I owed him something. “Bane?” I asked, voice a bit weak. I hoped he didn’t notice.

“What, Deirdre?”

“Thanks.”
***
I was beginning to think that a shower was Bane’s form of torture. After all, he all but locked me in the bathroom. He unceremoniously threw me in the tiny room with some of his clothes and a plastic bag for mine, which he instructed me to hand out to him the moment I had them all off.

Even my underwear had blood on them. That was an awkward position, to say the least.

I was thankful for the bandage on my arm. Bane, with some bizarre bevy of doctor knowledge, had been aware to the fact that hot water makes cuts bleed more. I had never known this, and stashed it away for future birthdays. So I had to stick my arm out at a strange, uncomfortable angle, and then hold it there, while I attempted to remove the blood from my body with a single hand. It was a challenge, and before long, my shoulder began to ache.

But I moved through the motions with acute responsibility, like I always did after moments like these. That was why I did it, of course. It made everything so clear, so cut and dry, so black and white. It was like a cut along my scar (and I never did it anywhere but along my scar—I wasn’t stupid enough to do it anywhere else, and leave evidence) was a time portal back to a simpler era.

Putting on Bane’s clothes, particularly single handedly, was a challenge. His pants simply weren’t happening. I was pretty skinny, even for a girl, because I was rarely hungry and didn’t really eat that often. There was no way his boy pants—he had given me a pair of shorts—were going to stay up. So I just made do with his shirt, which hung to around mid-thigh. It was an uncomfortable apparel, but there wasn’t much else I could do.

I padded downstairs, after drying every bit of moisture from my body. In the front hall mirror, I caught sight of my reflection and nearly winced. Now, I’m a very non-vain person. I don’t look at myself in the mirror very often, and I don’t wear makeup, and I don’t fuss about clothes. I mean, I wear a black shirt and jeans every day so that I don’t have to worry about what I’m wearing, ever. But I really was a sight.

My hair was wet, and so hung in limp strands around my face. My bangs were in my eyes—they needed to be cut—giving me an almost hung over look. And my usually pale skin had a grayish tinge, making me look like the living dead. No wonder Bane had cursed when he’d seen me. If I hadn’t been looking straight at him, lying in a pool of blood I would have seemed to be dead.

The lovely sense of smell led me to Bane—the sense of smell paired with the reek of bleach. He was using bleach—that seemed to be barely diluted—to clean the bathroom. He had done a very good, very fast job of it, though I wondered how he was going to explain the smell to his mother.

A good minute and a half after I had come up behind him, Bane glanced up and me, and started. He took in what I was wearing, and quickly turned away. Well, I didn’t realize that I was so offended. “Where are my pants?” he asked tersely.

“On the bathroom sink,” I replied, my voice sounding unusually loud. I took it down a notch. “They didn’t fit,” I explained.

“Oh,” Bane muttered, sounding faint. The bleach chemicals were probably going to his head. “How’s the arm?” He seemed determined to be civil about the whole thing.

I glanced down at my arm. The sleeve of Bane’s shirt almost came down to my elbow, which meant it almost hid my bandage completely. What I could see didn’t have any bloodstains on it, though. Yet. “Fine,” I muttered. I bent down to help Bane, but he fluttered a hand at me without looking in my direction. I wondered how truly angry he was. “Are you mad?” I asked, dying to know. Since when am I dying to know
anything?

He glanced up at me, surprised, then hurriedly looked away. Maybe he was so upset by the cadaver factor. “Could you find some pants?” he snapped. That was what he was upset about? Bane sighed. “I’m a little upset, yeah, Deirdre. More freaked out than mad, though. You scared the crap out of me.”

“Don’t curse,” I reprimanded him.

He looked at me like I was crazy. “Uh, hate to break it to you, brat, but I’m seventeen. I can pretty much get away with cursing.” Oh, good, he called me “brat” again. He wasn’t that angry, then.

I pursed my lips. “I’m eighteen, and I don’t curse.” Wow, I’m eighteen. Aren’t most kids more excited about this? The delight of being legal and all of that? Then again, I’ve never been one to get excited about many things.

Bane raised an eyebrow. “You never curse?” he asked, as if he didn’t believe it.

“Nope,” I replied.

“Not even if you slam your hand in a door?”

“Nope.”

“Not even if you do the entire magazine, and then it got deleted in a giant crash?”

“Nope.”

“Not even if—if…” he seemed to be having difficulty thinking of another situation that would fit this criteria.

I sighed inwardly. “I said never, Bane.”

“Wow.” He stood up and flushed the blood-and-bleach soaked paper towels he had been using down the toilet. “Dispose of the evidence,” he said, grinning. Yet, the grin was forced. He was trying to hard not to show his anger.

“Thanks,” I muttered. He pushed past me, catching my hair in his arm, pulling my face down. Well, that was an awkward position. His shirt smelled like him, and I was shocked to find that it smelled so nice.
***
That night, I sat in my bed, clutching my arm to myself, thinking about Bane. Every time I saw him, he was the most eventful part of my day, the part that stuck out in my mind. If I was into that sort of thing, my diary would have been full of him. I had, before, thought about how he was rubbing off on me. I was having conversations with him—not with people, but with him only—and furthering them of my own free will. His character was rubbing into me. I knew him.

What I hadn’t been thinking about was how I was rubbing into him. It was an unpleasant realization, but I knew, on the night of my birthday (which nobody but Bane had acknowledged, thankfully; speaking of which, how did he even know?) that he was getting to know me. And that was dangerous.

Today marked nine years that I had been guarding against this very thing—proximity. I had managed to keep my family out for so long. And then some boy came, caught me unawares, and I hadn’t even realized that I was letting him in. I couldn’t believe he had nailed me, on the brink of a decade of silence and being reserved.

I was an expert, too. The last time I had really made noise was when I had protested Uncle Mack’s arrival. That, too, was probably the last time I’d really moved with any energy. I had managed to hold on to my shell of protection for nine years.

How is this relevant to Bane, one may wonder? It’s simple: he knew too much. This couldn’t go on. Bane couldn’t know more about me, not for his good or mine. Letting people get too close was only setting yourself up for disappointment, lining up for pain to be doled out. I was already attached to my family, and I couldn’t afford to let anyone else come close.

Lying flat on my back, staring up at the ceiling, I clenched my fists, sending a wave of pain up my right arm. I was lucky that I hadn’t severed any tendons, or severely damaged my bicep muscle. But that wasn’t the issue here and now—the issue here and now was that I needed to cut Bane out. He was the editor-in-chief, not me, and he was getting the hang of things. He was starting to know the members of the staff, and he understood what went on.

I was Production Manager—I didn’t have to come to all the meetings… or any of them, really. I could finish all the pages when Bane was at practice, and leave the files on the computer. Ms. Moreno would make sure he got them—he was her pet editor, and wouldn’t want to do anything that would hurt the magazine.

Switching seats in Poetry and Calc would be a snap. With my excellent grades and soft demeanor, teachers gave me more or less whatever I wanted, because I never asked them for anything. I could escape Bane, with ease. He wouldn’t chase after me, not with his current level of anger, if I made things easy for him.

It would be good for both of us. He would be able to have normal friends, unencumbered by me. He could run cross country, and have a girlfriend, and would never have to clean blood up off his floor again. And, more importantly, he would never know why he had had to do it once.
***
My birthday had been a Thursday. By Friday, my vow of anti-Bane was in action. Poetry was a snap—we didn’t have assigned seats, and so I moved to the corner of the room where there wasn’t any other empty seat nearby. Bane shot me one curious glance that made my stomach constrict, but didn’t say anything for the rest of the period.

In Calc, we had a full class—every chair had a student to sit in it. But a whispered question to Ms. Evened (who seemed a bit surprised that I was talking) if I could please move to the front because I was having a hard time concentrating (not a lie) from the back, was enough to get me switched with Elena Bath, who sat in the front row. At the end of this period, Bane made towards me, with a we-need-to-talk expression, but I left and made my way to lunch before he could. And then I sat with Katy and her friends during lunch, hiding among their chatter. I would have sat anywhere if it meant that there was only one seat available.

Bane called once—I can’t believe he actually expected that I would answer—and Aunt Mo told him laughingly, “Sorry, Bane, but Deirdre doesn’t use the phone. You’ll have to wait until school tomorrow to talk to her.” Apparently Bane didn’t clue her in to the fact that I was avoiding him, since she didn’t say anything to me.

All she’d said was, “Silly boy. You’d think he’d know you well enough by now, Deirdre, to know that you won’t come to the phone.” Though the idea of his not knowing me was a comforting one, I knew that Aunt Maureen’s comment wasn’t totally accurate. I was certain that Bane’s phone call was a last ditch effort to make me respond.

I would have thought that, after being ignored so thoroughly, he would have given up. But it appeared that young Master Morrison was more determined that even I had imagined. A good week after I’d started ignoring him, he caught up with me on the way back from my locker, grabbing my upper arm. I couldn’t help myself: I winced.

“Sorry,” he muttered, sliding his grip down past my elbow, but not letting go, “but we need to talk.” My arm was throbbing from his grip, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if the scab had cracked. It had been a week since we’d talked, which meant a week of healing. In both cases, this might have not seemed like such a long time, but we used to talk for hours a day, and my cut had just barely hardened, and I still wore the bandage.

“Deirdre?” I turned my head. Katy was calling my name, looking at Bane and me as if she weren’t sure if she should intervene. “Are you coming?” I nodded and pulled free from Bane. For a moment, he looked as if he were going to follow, then seemed to decide against it.

When we sat down at lunch, Katy whispered to me, “I don’t know what’s going on between you and that guy, but that scene was very weird. Don’t get hurt, okay?” I nodded, as per my usual.

After that, it seemed like Bane had given up. By October nineteenth I had given him all the pages he would need for the issue, ridiculously ahead of time. Ms. Moreno told me he had gotten the pages, with barely concealed curiosity as to what was going on. For a while, it seemed like this would be the end of it.

Then, on October twenty-ninth (which could also be known as the day some really irritating and then bad things started), the doorbell rang, at approximately five fifty-eight. I knew this because I was looking at the clock, which I was doing because we had dinner at six every night, and because I had finished all my homework. There was nothing else for me to do but go to dinner. Besides, Aunt Mo had made cupcakes—not my favorites, but still.

When the doorbell rang, I did not move from my position. Nobody ever came here for me—and I do mean never. In the nine-years-and-two-weeks (it was easy to count around my birthday) I had been living here, not one single person had ever come to that door looking for me. So I left my left arm beneath my head, propping it up so that I had perfect view of the clock. Five fifty-nine, it read now.

“Deirdre!” Aunt Mo called down the stairs. Finally, dinner! I pushed myself up, and plodded down the stairs, making my way to the kitchen. Sinking down into my seat, I noticed that the dishes were still on the counter; I rose to get them, to set the table. As I passed the hallway, Aunt Mo stuck her head in. “Come here, Deirdre.”

Confused, I followed Aunt Maureen’s beckon. There wasn’t someone here for me, was there? The only person who might want to talk to me was… And, sure enough, standing there in our front hallway was Bane, with a friendly smile on his face and stack of papers in his hand. My sweet, clueless aunt said, “Bane here said that he hasn’t been seeing you in school often, and that you had to get these right away, Deirdre, love.”

Bane nodded as I seethed, acknowledging the truth in Aunt Maureen’s comment. “It came at the right time too,” he chuckled. “My sisters and my mom are out, so I didn’t have to drag them with me.” He was facing Aunt Mo but was looking at me as he said this. Did he have an ulterior motive in this seemingly innocent comment? Absolutely.

“Oh,” Aunt Maureen exclaimed. “Why, you’re orphaned for the night!” Forget that; I’m orphaned for life. My sympathy levels are at zero, boy. “You must stay for dinner.” Aunt Mo, please don’t. He definitely should NOT stay for dinner.

Feigning shock—because clearly he had planned this—Bane exclaimed, “Why, Mrs. Donnelly thank you so much, but I couldn’t. I wouldn’t want to impose.”

Aunt Mo flapped her hands, dismissing this concern. “It’s no imposition, and I’m sure Deirdre would love to have you stay.” Bane shot me a devilish smile when Aunt Mo wasn’t looking. I was pretty much sure that I hated him a lot right then.

“In that case, Mrs. Donnelly,” Bane said, certain to attribute this to Aunt Mo, and not me, “I’d love to. My stomach thanks you—I’m a terrible cook.” Aunt Mo fluttered a hand at him, already making her way back into the kitchen.

Spending one of my moments of motion, I crossed my arms and glared at Bane, who had plastered his face with a very self-satisfied smile. “What do you think you’re doing?” I hissed. Apparently two weeks of reverting to my old ways hadn’t closed my lips when it came to
Bane.

He grinned at me. “I believe I’m having dinner at your house, Deirdre. Did you miss it? You were right here when your aunt asked me to.”

For a moment I was grabbed by a wild, impulsive desire to punch Bane again, but I didn’t. Self-restraint is my best friend.

“You’re bringing my family into this,” I snapped, softly so Aunt Mo wouldn’t hear. “And it will stop now, do you understand me?”

Bane sighed, thrusting the pile of papers at me. I suppose he’d gotten tired of holding them. “If you weren’t ignoring me—by the way, I still have no idea why you are, or were I suppose—I wouldn’t have to come here and bother you. Believe me; I had no particular desire to make the trek over here in the dark, in the rain. I would have much preferred to stay at home and sleep or watch TV or something.”

“I hate you,” I grumbled.

“You keep telling yourself that,” he ordered me cheerfully. I would have had another snide comment—I was in the process of coming up with one—when Aunt Mo called, “Kids, time for dinner!”

Stalking ahead of Bane (but slowly, as usual) to show my disdain, I sank into my seat gently without acknowledging his existence. It wasn’t an issue though, since Aunt Mo directed him to the seat across from me. Thanks a lot, Aunt Mo.

We started eating with any uncomfortable silences covered up by the chatter of Katy, Molly, and Aunt Maureen. Occasionally, Uncle Mack or Jack would offer some comment or other, and Bane was taking a page out of my book—answering when someone asked him a question. Other than that, he stared at me, with a peculiar look in his eye. Might I go so far to say that he missed me?

“So, Deirdre,” he said to me after we’d been eating for a bit. I looked up from my Christmas stew, which Aunt Maureen had made, even though it wasn’t Christmas, because it was cold. “How’s your arm?” It was a question with an ulterior motive, I was sure—he wasn’t about to rat me out, but he was reminding me to behave.

“Fine,” I answered tersely.

Bane smiled all too innocently. “That’s good.”

“What happened to her arm?” Aunt Maureen squeaked, always the concerned parent. All here, please note that this query was directed at Bane, not me. Everyone but that stupid boy knows not to ask me things. I could so definitely slap him.

He shrugged. “She snagged it on something at my house. Not a big deal.” He had the art of half-truths almost as perfected as I did. “I just wanted to make sure she felt better because—” Here he seemed to change his mind and directed the question in my general direction. “You heard about the conference, right, Deirdre?” Or, directly at me.

My eyes flashed, or at least I intended them to. “No,” I said, with emphasis, meaning, “Drop it, Bane, before I come over there and drop kick you.”

“What conference?” This was Uncle Mack, from where he sat next to me, at the head of the table.

If my eyes could shoot things, Bane would have been so incredibly dead at that moment. This had been his grand plan, hadn’t it? I couldn’t think why he was trying to torment me, but I was being tormented.

“Well,” Bane began, the introduction to his grand speech, “Deirdre and I have been invited, as head representatives of Memorandum,” what was he talking about? He was the head representative, not me, “to a conference for high school newspapers and literary magazines at Columbia University. There are two days that we’d be gone, over Veteran’s Day weekend. It’s a real honor to be invited.” He was laying it on a bit thick, wasn’t he?

Aunt Maureen actually clapped her hands together. “Oh, Deirdre, this is so good for you!” she squealed. If this clarifies anything, my aunt was a cheerleader. I mean, I love her, but was squealing really necessary? No, I think not. “You absolutely have to go!”
Bane met my eyes and gave a sickeningly satisfied smile.
-------------------------
Love,
Gracey :elmo:
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#4 peanut_butter

peanut_butter

    Meg Cabot Obsessed

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Posted 09 March 2008 - 10:25 PM

Part Four
-----------------
With all the talking—mostly about this conference bombshell that Bane had dropped—and cupcakes, dinner took over an hour. Personally, I thought this was a bit excessive. I could easily have been extremely busy and without an hour to waste on dinner.
When we were (finally) done, I moved to clear everyone’s places, but Katy stopped me. “It’s alright, Deirdre,” she offered, making very non-subtle pointing gestures at Bane behind his back. Little Jack had to choke down a laugh.

Aunt Maureen was all over this. “Yes, Deirdre,” she said oh so sweetly, putting a hand on my shoulder. I had to bite back a wince—that was my bad arm. I saw that Bane noticed. “Walk Bane out, why don’t you?” She turned to the bane of my life. “It was lovely having you, dear. Please, do stop by again.” She can really be very fifties-housewife when she wants to be.

“Nice to meet you,” huffed Uncle Mack.

Bane smiled his gracious smile. He really was a people-pleaser. “It’s been great seeing you all,” he allowed politely. “I hope to see you again soon.”

Enough was enough. I stalked out the door in front of him. So much for walking him out, eh? When I got to his car, I sat on his hood and crossed my arms. This was purely for dramatic effect, as it still sort of hurt to cross my arms. But it didn’t hurt enough for me to waste movement by uncrossing them.

“What was that?” I demanded when he got close enough. I really should learn to be more closed-mouthed when it came to Bane. The next thing I knew, all my regular modes of silence and stillness would be gone.

“What was what?” Bane asked, with an expression so innocent I knew it to be false. He knew exactly what he had done, and he had planned it. I imagine getting invited for dinner was just another added bonus.

I widened my eyes to emphasize my anger. If I had done that kind of thing—read that, if I had been Bane—I would have thrown up my hands in exasperation. “You threw me to the wolves! You had to have known I wouldn’t want to go to that conference.”

Bane shrugged. “That’s what you get for avoiding me, brat. If you had talked to me, you would have known, and maybe I would have let you not come.” He shrugged again. “Although probably this would have gone down just the same way, because I wouldn’t want to go alone.”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “Bane. Listen to me. You are the editor-in-chief of this magazine. That means you have to start
acting like one, okay? I’m not the same as you.”

“But you are supposed to help,” he reminded me gently. “That’s what staff is for—to help me put together this magazine. And you probably do it better than I do.” He grinned. “And we’re gonna need one hell of a good magazine if we’re going to get judged well at this convention.”

Clever as always, I engineered a quick change of topic. “Well, if we were to do this, I’d want something in return, of course,” I muttered slyly, not really looking Bane in the eye. To be perfectly honest, I was making sure that nobody was looking out the window. If they had seen me actually talking, my reputation would have been gone, done, shattered.

Still, from the corner of my eye, I could seen Bane give me a suspicious look. Really, that kind of doubt was probably going to scar me for life. I’m sure I’ll look back on this day thinking, Ah, if only Bane had trusted me. Or not. “You never ask for anything,” he observed.
“All the more reason to give me what I want now,” I answered sweetly.

He narrowed his eyes. “What is it that you want, exactly?”

Curse him and his questions! I tried to remain blasé as I gave him his answer. “I’d kind of like to have my knife back,” I informed him as innocently as I knew how.

Bane’s tone was cold. “No.”

My eyes flicked back to his. “Please be reasonable. I could get another knife so easily. I’m just kind of partial to that one. It’s nice, and I don’t want to have to replace it.”

He took a menacing step forward. “Get this straight, Deirdre: if I ever hear of you ever doing something of the sort again—if you ever wince if and when I touch your arm—your aunt and uncle will hear of it. Do you understand me, Deirdre?”

I made a moue of my mouth. “Implicitly.” Stupid boy had to be so stubborn about things, didn’t he?

Expression softening, Bane leaned against the car beside me. “How’s your arm?” he asked quietly. “It seemed like it still hurt when I touched it the other day. Shouldn’t it be getting better?”

I shrugged, not thinking about what came out of my mouth next. That was my problem with Bane—because I didn’t reserve words, I didn’t think about every word I said. It wasn’t a good thing. “It’s all scabbed up now, which is a little behind schedule, but this was worse than ever before. It’s not something to worry about, yet.”

In a flash, Bane was standing in front of me, hands on my shoulders, the grip on my right arm more delicate than the one on my left. “Behind schedule?” he echoed in an agonized voice. “This has happened before, Deirdre? Why do you do this?” He didn’t sound angry, the way he had on my birthday. He sounded as if it were him I was hurting, instead of myself.

I closed my eyes, deliberately ignoring his question. “If I tell you, will you give me back my knife?” I had no intention whatsoever of telling him… but then again, I didn’t think he had any intention whatsoever of giving me back my knife.

Suddenly the pressure from his hands was gone, and his voice came from next to me again. “No.” From angry to concerned to angry again—now Bane sounded mad.

I opened my eyes to the determined set of his jaw. Really, there was no use arguing. It wouldn’t get me anywhere. “What do we have to do for this stupid conference thing?”

He seemed delighted by my conceding. “Well, you’re officially not ignoring me anymore, in case you were wondering. We have a lot of work to do.”
***
If I had thought the time I spent with Bane was before in excess, than there wasn’t a word to describe how often we were together now. It was a crazy set of days (we only had ten to get ready), and the first time I got to actually express my views on poems. But I’m sure it would all be very tedious and boring for me to recount, so I won’t. Besides, the most memorable time was when Natalie and Lindsay, upon seeing me for the first time in two weeks, threw themselves at me, shrieking, “You’re back! You’re back!”

Hardly exciting. Bane was acting strangely, but he’s a kook under pressure. His nutty behavior led up to the day of our departure, which, I will have everyone know, I was still not happy about.

Duffel bag slung over one shoulder, I crept down the stairs at six (if Bane had mentioned that I would have had to get up so early before I’d told my aunt and uncle I would go, I never would have allowed such a thing), trying not to wake the rest of the household. I was scribbling a note—“See you tomorrow night. Love, Deirdre—when a noise behind me startled me. I turned around to spy my Uncle Mack. He smiled at me reassuringly, holding his hands up, silently apologizing for creeping up on me.

Bag at my feet, I leaned against the counter, waiting for whatever he had to say. If Katy and I can easily communicate without words, than Uncle Mack and I could practically read each others’ minds. He and I were just cut from the same cloth. Perhaps sewn with different stitches, but cut from the same cloth.

“Are you sure you want to do this, Deirdre?” he asked me softly. “You didn’t seem to enthusiastic about it, but that’s your way of things. I’ll make your excuses to Maureen, if you really want to stay home.”

That was the difference between my Aunt Mo and Uncle Mack. Aunt Mo wanted what was best for us—or, rather, what was best in her eyes. And I will admit, she was often right about what was best. She made a good parent, and her children turned out well, as far as I can see (and I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t know the last thing about raising a child).

Uncle Mack, on the other hand, took a more laissez faire approach to parenting. He wanted what we wanted, so long as what we wanted wasn’t clearly stupid or illegal. So long as the four children (actually, I technically wasn’t a child anymore, something that bothered Katy no end) under his care were, on the whole, being good, he let them make their own decisions, and their own mistakes. He would, occasionally—oh, so very, very occasionally—reward us with his insightful opinion, but that was it. And, because of that, he was staving off Aunt Maureen in this aspect. He was giving me an out.

I’m not going to lie—I honestly considered taking him up on his offer. When it all boiled down to it, he was right; I didn’t want to go. So, one would think, “okay” would be the immediate answer to jump to my lips.

But then I thought about Bane. He would have a panic attack—sometimes I genuinely wondered if that boy needed to be on anxiety medicine—if I told him this late in the game that I wasn’t coming. Any excuse I might have to give wouldn’t be enough for him. That is, any excuse I was willing to give wouldn’t be enough for him. And, besides, I had worked myself to the bone these past two weeks, trying to get this magazine out, and finishing up the marking period for school at the same time. I was, I have to admit, curious to see how it turned out.

“No thanks, Uncle Mack,” I replied eventually, after working out this little pro-con list in my head.

He smiled. “Alright, Deirdre. I’ll miss you; out of you four kids, you’re the one I can always count upon being around. But maybe Maureen is right, and this boy is good for you. God knows I’m glad you’ve finally found a friend.” He winked at me. “I’ve seen you two have actual conversations, so don’t deny it—conversations where you talk, too. Don’t worry, I won’t tell your aunt.” I wrinkled my nose. Uncle Mack kissed me on the forehead. “Love you, kid. See you tomorrow.”

And then he shuffled off to the living room, after grabbing the newspaper off the counter. As a professor of literature at the community college, Uncle Mack had off on weekends. He spent this time with his children (and niece), catching up on the news, and, apparently, delivering the longest speech I’d ever heard him give. Although I didn’t think I needed to get too worried—it would probably be nine years more before I got another one like it.

With a mental shrug, I dismissed it; sure, the conversation was touching, but not really my style. Clearly channeling Uncle Mack, I shuffled out the front door, to wait for Bane. Of course, being Bane, he was right on schedule, at six-fifteen. I put my duffel bag in the back, and then climbed in next to him.

“That’s all you brought?” he asked amazedly, looking at my tiny bag. I hated him so much. Couldn’t he see that I was clearly in no mood for conversation?

“Yes,” I answered, laying my head against the window, hoping for a few extra hours of sleep as we made our way to New York. There’s something about sleeping in cars that really can’t be beaten. Besides, I’d never been to New York City before, and wasn’t particularly looking forward to the experience. Any sleep I could salvage before we got there was probably for the best.

Bane tugged on the ends of my hair (something he knows annoys me) to get my attention. “Aren’t girls supposed to bring a lot of stuff, or something?” For someone who had two sisters, he really was clueless.

“It’s only one night,” I muttered, closing my eyes as Bane’s car sputtered and wheezed on beneath me. “And I’m terrible at being a girl.”

“Oh,” he said, seeming confused by this logic as we pulled out of the driveway.
***
It was the entire city that woke me up. It wasn’t just the smell—industrial waste mixed with careless disarray—and it wasn’t just the noise—the chatter of a thousand squirrels that have been taking far too much crack. And it wasn’t just how there everything was, the vibrancy of the entire area. It was the whole cursed package, assaulting my suburban senses violently.

I hated it instantly.

Bane, on the other hand, seemed to love it. “I love cities,” he exclaimed, launching into conversation the moment he realized I was awake.

This, incidentally, was the same moment I realized that he had tucked his jacket around me sometime during our drive. Ordinarily, this might have upset me, as it was more touchy-feely than I strictly subscribed to, but it was cold outside, and his jacket was warm, so I didn’t object.

“They’re just so interesting,” Bane continued in a rambling sort of fashion, oblivious to the fact that I was, inside my head, constructing a rant of hatred against New York City. “I grew up in a city, you know. Actually, lived in Chicago until this year. It’s so quiet where we live compared to there. And less windy, but mostly more quiet. There’s less going on. I still haven’t decided if I like that or not.”

Couldn’t he realize that I wasn’t listening? Although, seeing as I wasn’t listening, it didn’t really matter, now did it? Everything outside my window was so flashy and tacky; I could only imagine what the famous streets were like. If Bane even thought about suggesting that we looked at Broadway, or Times Square, or anything like it, I was going to wring his sorry neck.

Pulling out a worn piece of paper from his pocket, Bane grinned and turned into a dingy parking garage that looked like it was about to collapse at any moment. I, personally, hoped that it waited to collapse until after I got out from under it. I may cut on occasion (one occasion, actually) but I’m not suicidal. And this thing looked positively homicidal.

“Here we are!” Bane announced with pride, as if he had constructed it with his own bare hands. Actually, thinking about it, I’m not sure I would have been all that surprised if he had constructed. It certainly looked like a high school kid with zero background in architecture had made it.

“This is a parking garage,” I commented dully. Oh, yes, there’s another flaw in the “here we are” thing. I certainly hoped he didn’t really mean that this was where we were supposed to be, because then I would be forced to brand him an idiot. This was not Columbia University. In my infinite wisdom, I could figure that one out.

Bane looked at me like I was stupid. If one of us is stupid, it’s not me, boy. “I know this is a parking garage,” he replied dryly. No need for such sarcasm. “We have to walk to the hotel, which is right by campus. Then, we will walk to Columbia, where we will commence with presenting Memorandum to the judges. Comprende?” he asked.

“I take French,” I snapped. I did not want to go out there. I am quiet, and I move slowly, and I don’t like people. This city was going to eat me alive and then spit me out. And then probably eat me again. I should have taken Uncle Mack up on his offer. This expedition, I could tell already, was going to be my ultimate doom. I shouldn’t have even tried holding it together for the past nine years. If I had just given up, I’m sure my demise would have been much cleaner than this was going to be. This was—

The door disappeared from under my head, and I was only saved from tumbling out of the car by my seatbelt. See? I had already almost gotten hurt. Bane leaned on the door he had opened. “You coming?” he asked patronizingly.

“No,” I squeaked, in a voice that was of a much higher pitch than my usual. I have an excuse! I was under duress!

Bane put one finger under my chin and lifted my eyes to his. “You’re not scared, are you, suburbia girl?” He chuckled at the angry expression he was meant to quail under. “Aw, you are! Don’t worry, brat, I won’t let them get you.” He reached across me to unbuckle my
seatbelt. “Just keep an eye to your bag.”

“Why?” I asked him, eyes wide. I was toast, sitting in front of a person that has been starving for days, and hasn’t had bread in six years.
He raised an eyebrow. “You don’t want someone to take it or something out of it.” His tone added, “Silly girl.”

I reached for my seatbelt, ready to buckle back in and hightail it to lovely, rural Pennsylvania, but Bane grabbed my hand. Using the leverage he had on my arm, he pulled me from the car. I stumbled slightly as my feet hit the pavement. Bane reached out to steady me, going originally for my arm, but then realizing his mistake, and re-aiming his grab for my waist. He held on until he was sure I was steady. “Watch yourself,” he muttered into my ear.

Turning a peculiar shade of red—not really sure why—I stepped back from him. It was awkward, to be hugged in such a manner, even if it was in the completely platonic and innocent act of steadying me. I hadn’t been hugged in so long, and I wasn’t sure I was comfortable with the maneuver.

Shrugging at my brush off, he opened the back of the car, pulling out my bag and his, thrusting the former into my general midriff area. I accepted it (as if I’d had a choice) with an oof. Apprehensively, and keeping close to him, I followed Bane across the garage and into the industrial nightmare that stretched out before me.

Almost instantaneously, I was swept up into the current of the crowds. I shot Bane a single wild look before he understood that I truly was frightened. Seemingly unthinkingly, he grabbed my hand, and pulled me along beside him, ensuring that I was close.

Had I had the time, I might have been a bit surprised by this. For, unlike the other (and these in themselves were rare) times when Bane had grabbed my hand to pull me along, here he did not merely grab. Let me explain: in previous instances, any hand contact had been mitten-style, with my fingers on one side, and his on the other. This contact had been brief, as were my usual altercations with other members of the human race.

This time, as we walked along stupid, terrifying New York City’s streets, my hand was not grabbed; it was held. Our fingers were intertwined, ensuring maximum contact, maximum security. It was an odd sensation, and a new one. Bane’s hand was big in mine, and warm, protecting my exposed hands from the November chill. With time to ponder it over, I might have decided that I liked it.

But there was no time. I was too busy being towed along, pressing as close to Bane as I could manage, clutching my bag with all my might. Undoubtedly the only tourist to do so, I kept my head down as I shuffled forward, blocking out the blaring lights and glaring sounds. I did my absolute best to tune out the fact that I was inside and part of New York City.

Not even close to quickly enough, we were there, wherever “there” may have been—in my ignore-the-city endeavor, I had missed the name of the hotel in which we were staying. It was, though, no matter—anywhere I went would have been with Bane, so I didn’t really need to know.
My nose practically pressed against the shoulder of Bane’s jacked—I, for one, would not be satisfied with my level of security until I was locked in my room, thank you very much—I kept my hand in his as he picked up the keys for our room. I did hear the desk clerk say that he hoped that “you and your girlfriend will have a good stay,” but I decided to let that one slide.

Alright, fine, let’s be honest here. I didn’t really process the clerk’s words until I was standing in front of the elevator, but when I turned around with an annoyed, “Hey,” Bane pulled me into the empty elevator that had opened in front of me.

When the doors shut, cutting of the two of us from the outside world, things grew suddenly strange. Bane looked down at our hands, still intertwined—no wonder the clerk had jumped to the conclusion that he did—causing me to follow his line of sight. Our eyes met, and we jumped apart, as if stung. I leaned against the wall of one side of the elevator, and Bane leaned against the other. Cold air rushed into the spaces where Bane’s hand had been.

“So,” he coughed awkwardly as the doors opened. Great, now the whole weekend was going to be a fest of uncomfortable silences and total hesitancy around each other. Just great. “We should probably head over to campus pretty soon.”

We stepped out into the hallway, and Bane lead the way towards our rooms. “Yeah, sure,” I allowed. “What time do we need to be there?”

He shrugged. “We already missed the first seminar of the morning, but that’s not a big deal. We’ll go for the next two, and then there’s an hour for lunch, and then everyone gathers for this afternoon to get their magazine critiqued.”

I nodded, even though his back was to me, and he wouldn’t have seen. “What’s the deal with these seminars?” I asked. We had reached our rooms—I made a mental note that mine was two fifteen.

“Well,” Bane replied, handing me my key and fitting his into the door, “there are some general way-to-make-your-stuff better lectures this morning, and then again tomorrow morning.” I let myself into my room, and Bane did the same for his. “On all kinds of things—improving prose, poetry, layout. I, personally, couldn’t care less about that last one.”

As we’d both entered our rooms, Bane’s voice had gotten fainter and fainter, until he opened the door that connected our rooms, bring everything back to full volume. “We can go to whichever ones we want.”

Tossing my bag down on my generic bed, I turned to face him. “I think we should stick together,” I suggested, frantic at the idea of having to navigate by myself.

Bane nodded. “Good idea.” His head, which had been stuck through the door, disappeared. “You know, since you’re so afraid of the city, and all,” he teased.

I sighed, but secretly I was pleased that he felt comfortable enough to tease me.
***
That night, I returned to my room completely exhausted. The day had been like one huge marathon, keeping me hopping from the moment I arrived at Columbia until the moment the judging was over—and even afterwards, as Bane and I had stopped to get a slice of pizza on our way back to the hotel. I’d eaten both lunch and dinner that day, a new accomplishment for the likes of me.

And tomorrow I had to get back up and do it again.

I lay down on my bed for a moment, just taking a second or three to catch my breath. I was very peacefully staring up at the ceiling, when
Bane’s face appeared, destroying my view of lovely cracked plaster.

“Well, that went well, I think,” he commented jovially, sitting down next to me without any invitation. But then again, I hadn’t allowed him to enter my room, either, so I shouldn’t have been surprised.

“Do you really?” I asked, allowing sarcasm to mar my tone ever so slightly. We’d been hammered. In fact, the only thing that had received compliments was the layout, if I do say so myself. “Silly me. I hadn’t realized that being told that our poetry was ‘sub par’ and that the photography and art was ‘not appropriate for the mood you seem to be attempting to convey’ were good things, Bane. Thank you for enlightening me.” Alright, so perhaps I was somewhat irritated that we’d been thrashed so thoroughly.

Instead of rising to my bait, Bane merely chuckled. “You know, you should really talk to more people than just me,” he advised. “You’re a really ball of fire when you get started, aren’t you?”

I wasn’t sure whether or not to be pleased over this assessment of my character, but I decided to take the high road. “Thank you.”

Tugging on the end of my hair—how I hated it when he did that—Bane laughed again. “Are you sure that was a compliment, brat?” I chose not to answer this. “Anyway, I’m getting ready for bed, and I suggest that you do, too. We have a longer day than today ahead of us tomorrow.”

“Longer?” I echoed weakly, feeling ill at the thought.

Ruffling my hair completely (I see we’ve moved a step up from mere tugging), Bane replied with, “Yup. Imagine doing what we did today, only for an hour longer, and still having the drive home ahead of us.” I groaned; Bane laughed. I was glad he found my pain to be amusing, the little sadist that he was.

Reluctantly, I stood up, and rifled through my bag for the necessary items, while Bane left for his room to do the same, thankfully closing the door behind him. I threw on my most comfortable pair of pajamas—I needed them for comfort in this ridiculous place—washed my face, and prepared to brush my teeth, only to discover that I’d forgotten toothpaste.

Sighing, I knocked on the door that connected my room to Bane’s. He opened it, still wearing his shirt from today and a pair of flannel pants, a toothbrush and foam hanging from his mouth. When he saw me, he promptly began to choke. I stared after him curiously as he ran to spit into the sink.

He was still hacking a bit when he returned. “Sweet Lord, Deirdre,” he forced out, hand over his mouth, “you’re wearing color. And shorts. And short sleeves.”

I looked down at my apparel. My shirt was blue and my shorts red plaid flannel—both extremely old and comfortable, and more or less all you could ask for in a pair of pajamas. “So?” I asked. Way to state the obvious, Bane.

“You never wear short things,” he replied, as if his distress was caused by something obvious. “And you never wear colors.”

I gave him an once-over, just to make sure he wasn’t on crack, or anything. This was, after all, New York. Who knew what could have been in that wrap he’d eaten for lunch. “Pajamas don’t have to match, Bane. Why do you think I wear black shirts every day?”

His eyes bugged out of his head. “You wear black every day because it’s easy to match?” he practically shouted.

Was he quite insane? “Of course. Why did you think I did it?”

Bane shook his head. “Never mind.” Then he seemed to remember that I’d knocked on his door. “What did you want, anyway?”

“Can I borrow your toothpaste?” I asked, nicely acting like he hadn’t been giving a very good impression of someone headed for the nut house just moments ago. “I seem to have forgotten mine.”

He couldn’t seem to get over the fact that I was wearing pajamas. “Oh, uh, sure,” he answered after a few seconds of staring at me blankly. “I’ll go get it,” he offered, tearing his eyes away.

I chuckled under my breath. He was funny sometimes, that boy, and entertainingly predictable. When he brought back the requested dental-hygiene product, I accepted it with a nod of thanks. I returned to my own bathroom—not bothering to close the door behind me, as I’d only have to return the toothpaste in a moment, and why waste movement—and began brushing my teeth.

The instant the toothpaste touched whatever taste receptor it touched first, I jumped in surprise. Alright, fine—I gagged just a bit. Bane came running at the horrible retching sound that was coming from my body. And no, I’m not being melodramatic—I was just extremely surprised by the taste.

“What is it?” he shouted anxiously, hovering over me, moving his hands in some frantic pattern, as if not entirely sure how to help. If it’s melodrama that you want, I assure you, you need look no farther than Bane.

“Your toothpaste tastes like leaves!” I gasped when I’d regained my composure. I snuck a look at the tube, and sure enough, there it was. This was some strange, all natural, organic brand. No wonder it tasted like it had grown in my backyard.

For this, I got a strange look. “Wait. How do you know what leaves taste like?”

I rolled my eyes. “Who doesn’t know what leaves taste like?”

Bane raised a sheepish hand. “Uh, me. Why would I know what leaves taste like?”

I glared at my toothbrush, debating whether or not it was worth it. I probably had a couple of extra babysitting bucks that could be spared on a new tube of toothpaste. I could probably even buy it down at the front desk. “You mean you never ate a leaf on a dare or something?” I asked incredulously. “Or pretended that you were a farmer by sticking a blade of grass in your mouth?”

“Nope.” He shook his head.

I shrugged. “Well, in Santa Fe, that was how things went down. I don’t know what kind of weirdo place you lived in, but I’ve eaten plenty a leaf in my day.” Unthinkingly, I stuck my toothbrush in my mouth and nearly gagged again. Wincing, I brushed my teeth with utmost speed.

Bane seemed intrigued by this particular snatch of conversation. “You grew up in Santa Fe?” he asked, seeming surprised by this bit of information. “I never would have guessed, seeing how terrified you are of the city.”

I spat, wiped my mouth, and then sneered at the boy on my bed. “I’m not that scared,” I countered. “Besides, New York City isn’t your average city—it’s a city hopped up on steroids.” Bane chuckled at this assessment. “And, yeah, I grew up in Santa Fe.”

Suddenly, he grew somber. “You’re never going to tell me what happened, are you, Deirdre?” he questioned softly, sounding legitimately concerned.

I wrinkled my nose and handed him back his toothpaste. “Trust me, you don’t want to know.”
***
That night, I had a nightmare. Unlike most dreams, this wasn’t the nonsensical happenings of a bizarre subconscious—this was a memory, with fear amplified to a thousand times its original proportions.

I didn’t know why nobody would listen to me. They sped past, like superhuman blurs from the cartoons of which I was so fond, ignoring my silent tears. I had been shut off in a bubble from the regular world, left to my own devices, with nothing to do.

My bench was next to a jail cell, and the man inside was singing to himself drunkenly. Every now and again he would make a retching sound, and I would be rewarded by the sight and smell of his inebriated stomach’s contents. I tried to direct someone to help him through my tears, but nobody listened.

A woman sat down next to me, eventually, and stretched out a hand to me. I thought she was lovely, but in a frightening way, with her short skirt and intense makeup. Just as soon as I inched towards her, though, she was grabbed up and away, by a policeman who hissed, “Leave her alone, got it?”

Silently, I returned to crying, and being ignored.

Through it all, I knew it was a dream, but that meant that I knew that I still had hours of abandonment ahead of me, hours before I woke up to leave this mass of humanity for the security and comfort of the present. If I was lucky, he would arrive before I woke up, and then there would be the fit, and then the calm.

But, for now, I cried myself along, hoping to get through the day…

“Deirdre?” Someone was calling me. My young self looked around the room, but nobody there was paying any attention to me. Nothing else could be expected, of course—I remembered it well, even though I hadn’t had this nightmare (nor any of the others in the series) in years.

“Deirdre!” I was being shaken, as well, by someone who wished to wake me up and bring me out—

I opened my eyes to see Bane’s confused face in the dim light coming from his room. My cheeks were wet with tears, and I was curled up into the fetal position, hugging my legs to my body with all my might.

Bane’s hands were on my exposed shoulder—I tended to sleep on my side—roughly shaking me into wakefulness. I bit my lip and looked at him with imploring eyes. “Are you alright?” he whispered. I nodded, but couldn’t stop my tears. It was irrational, to be crying still, when the nightmare was gone, but I couldn’t help it. Awkwardly, Bane pulled me up and into a hug, muttering into my hair, “Don’t worry, brat, it’s alright. It was just a dream. You’re alright.”

He rocked me back and forth, the way my mother used to do, stroking my hair until I calmed down. When I was quite finished, he asked, “Do you want to talk about it?”

“I was alone,” I muttered, “all alone.” Not thinking—I was still more or less half asleep, people—I snuggled against Bane. It was nice to have someone cuddle with me like this. It hadn’t happened in so long.

He swore under his breath, and I was too tired and out of it to even reprimand him. “Are you okay to go back to sleep?” he asked. Dimly, I realized that it was horribly selfish of me to keep him awake like this, but I really didn’t want to let him go. Even more dimly, I realized that I would be horrifically mortified when the morning rolled around.

“I suppose,” I muttered, leaning my head against his shoulder. Bane moved as if to pull free, and I looked up at him. Something in my expression must have tipped him off that I didn’t want him to go, because he swore again, and then muttered, “I’ll be right back.”

I nodded dumbly. Bane returned to his room and shut off the light, then came back with his pillow. He plunked it down between us and lay down on the other side of the bed. “It’s okay, sweetheart,” he whispered, signaling that I should lie down, too. “I won’t bother you, but you won’t be alone, alright?”

Like a little child who has just been scared, I gave a pouty nod. I put my head back on my own pillow, and wrapped my arms around the dividing line. “It was too quiet,” I informed him.

Bane had been nodding off to sleep already. “What was?” he asked blearily.

“The room. The room was too quiet. Usually I can hear Katy breathing, but tonight it was silent. That was what gave me the dream.” I, too, was drifting away, but I was awake enough to feel Bane’s fingers land on top of mine and intertwine ever so slightly.

The last thing I heard before I fell asleep was his assurance of, “Don’t worry. I’m here now, and you’re fine.”
***
The instant I woke up, I knew something was wrong. I was too warm, and Katy’s breath was coming from too close. Instead of opening my eyes right away, I dismissed it. Maybe Aunt Mo or Uncle Mack had turned up the heat to fix our perpetually too-cold room. And Katy was known to sleepwalk every now and again, so maybe that had happened.

Then I realized that the alarm clock was coming from too far away. Well, that was bizarre; unlike my cousin, alarm clocks didn’t sleepwalk. Or sleep, for that matter. I opened my eyes.

The first thing I saw was two orbs of intense blue, staring at me. I blinked, and jerked my head back as I realized what it was. Bane, from where his nose had been, not two inches from mine, laughed. I sat up, my hair falling around my head in a dark waterfall, and hanging in my face until I brushed it impatiently out of the way. “Good morning,” he said cheerfully.

I moved to pull my mane back off of my neck completely, only to realize that my hand was still attached to something else—Bane’s hand. My fingers creaked uncomfortably when I tried to pull away, signaling that they had been in the same position for quite some time. My face turned a deep, and in all probability deeply unattractive shade of umber. I mumbled something that was meant to be a “Good morning” in return, but turned out as nonsense mush talk.

Then, as Bane went back to his room to turn off the alarm—causing me to notice for the first time that he had not, for the entire night, been wearing a shirt—I hightailed it into the bathroom, where I began to panic ever so slightly.

Of course, there was no real reason to panic. It was a bit embarrassing, sure, but nothing to be supremely worried about. As I justified this to myself, I realized that I wasn’t worried. That didn’t mean I wasn’t still on the cusp of hyperventilating, but I wasn’t really worried.

I stepped into the shower, letting the water pour over my head, to ponder it out.
***
Relaxation did not reach me until that night.

The day has just been one incident after another, starting with the fact that when I had gotten into the shower, I’d forgotten to bring clothes in with me. This had led to a dash and leap of faith (and we all know that I don’t really dash) to my bag, while wrapped in a towel and hoping and praying that Bane didn’t happen to look through the still-open door.

Then, after the first lecture of the morning, I’d gotten separated from Bane during a bathroom run, causing me to stand paralyzed until he had found me again two minutes later. It was gratifying to observe, however, that upon finding me Bane was panting, having clearly run back.

Though I was too traumatized to appreciate this until much later.

And, because all bad things come in threes, supposedly, I’d bitten straight through my tongue at lunch, filling my mouth up with blood. Which, of course, I’d instinctively spit out all over my sandwich. I’d moved to step back from this lovely creation, and tripped over a chair, scraping my hands.

It simply hadn’t been my day, not at all.

Bane—who was beginning to know me far more than I was comfortable with—seemed to be clued into this, and didn’t force conversation as we ate dinner and returned to the parking garage of doom (which miraculously hadn’t collapsed on Bane’s car, effectively leaving us stranded in the worst city on earth), and even let me sleep on the ride home.

When I say relaxation didn’t reach me until that night, I mean that relaxation didn’t reach me until I fell asleep in Bane’s car, lulled by the engine’s gentle rumbling and the soothing, even sound of his breathing.

Of course, the moment I woke up, all my the aforementioned stress came back. Why is this, you might ask? Well, it was because I woke up in a place in which I was not accustomed to waking up. And, no, it was not Bane’s car. And no, he didn’t chloroform me and then ship me out of the country (though that would make for one interesting story).

I realized, after about thirty seconds of stressed blinking, that I was waking up on my aunt’s couch. Well, that was interesting. Blearily, I reached over my head to switch on the lamp, and winced when my eyes were assaulted by the harsh, unnatural light. I looked at my watch—I was sleeping in all my clothes except my shoes, including my coat—to see that it was seven fifteen. By my supreme deducing skills, I concluded that since we hadn’t left New York City until seven, it was seven fifteen in the morning.

For a few seconds I panicked—there was no way I was going to make it to school in time—until I realized that by the grace of whoever decides these things, there was no school today. I love veterans.

I stumbled into the kitchen, where my Aunt Maureen was brewing a cup of coffee. “Good morning, sleepyhead,” she greeted me teasingly. “Bet you’re wondering how you got here, aren’t you?”

I nodded once. Aunt Mo laughed, like this was the funniest joke she’d ever heard. “That nice boy half-dragged, half-carried you in. He said he didn’t want to wake you up, if he didn’t have to. Isn’t that the sweetest thing you’ve ever heard, Deirdre?” she exclaimed.

“I think it’s creepy,” I muttered, before going back upstairs to crawl into my own bed.
***
It was exactly one week and twelve hours later (I only knew this because I made note of it being seven o’clock each time) that Bane pulled up in my driveway. As per my usual, I had been hiding up in my bed, this time reading Beowulf for English (please revert to my mantra—what is there to do but study?). This time, when Aunt Mo called me down, I knew the cause—I had, sure enough, heard the doorbell and Bane’s excited voice. What he had to be so excited about I couldn’t fathom, but he seemed pretty keyed up.

I went downstairs with a resigned sigh. “What do you want?” I muttered tiredly before being swept up into a tight, exuberant hug. I am ashamed to say that I may or may not have squeaked a little when this happened. I was not the biggest fan of hugs to ever walk this earth.
“We got invited back! Can you believe it, Deirdre? We got invited back!” Bane put me immediately in mind of a small child to get a gumball from the machines in the mall. Yes, he was that hyped up about whatever was going on.

I, however, kept my cool. “What are you talking about?” This is me, resigned. “What did we get invited back for?” I wracked my brain for something that would possibly fit this description, but came up nil. As far as I could remember, I had never been invited anywhere, except to join the French Honor Society (which I declined, by the way—you had to get up on a stage and speak. Ha. As if.). Other than that, my invite quota was exactly zero.

Bane looked at me as if I were stupid. “The conference, of course! They have a follow up conference, at the Columbia College of Chicago—and affiliate of Columbia University,” as if I couldn’t figure this out from the name, “and we’ve been asked to come!” I must have looked blank, because Bane continued. “Think of the first one as the preliminary round in a tournament.”

“I don’t really watch sports ever,” I pointed out, overtly dully, to balance out his cliché child in a candy store excitement. “So I may or may not understand this analogy.”

He sneered at me, thinking I was kidding. “Whatever, brat. Like I said, think of the first one as the preliminary round in a tournament. If you do well enough, you get to go onto the finals. This second set of seminars will have more judging—and if we win, we get a crap load of money towards Memorandum.”

“Don’t curse,” I ordered absently. In my head, though, I was thinking about the possibility. Shallow as it sounds, he had caught me on the money aspect. I didn’t think we were going to win, but the experience would be good, and maybe Memorandum would win in future years. That was something I wanted badly, even though I wouldn’t be there to see it happen. We were running out of money from the grant we’d been given in my freshman year, and our funding was limited.

For my quiet reprimand, I got a mockingly disappointed shake of the head, like bane was ashamed that I refused to curse, and didn’t approve of it in my presence. Sometimes, I was really willing to smack that boy upside the head. He was like the annoying little brother (because, much to my delight, Bane was exactly six weeks younger than me) I’d never wanted.

However, he seemed to bounce back from his disappointment. “But here’s the thing—we’re probably going to have to make an entirely different issue for this.” My head snapped up. Was he positively insane? We were already working to breaking point, trying to do this monthly thing. “Well, we’re going to have to piece together one—it can go on the same format as November’s issue.” I was painfully close to being done with November’s layout.

I narrowed my eyes thoughtfully. As potentially painful as it sounded, this idea had, well, potential. “They how will it be different.”
Bane waved his hands excitedly in front of him to illustrate his point. “Well, we’ll need to take the best work from all the magazines this year to make this one. I have one or two of your poems that come to mind,” I turned red, “and a few of Elena’s pictures that definitely will make it. But, your part, the layout, can be the same.”

To answer my own question, yes, he was completely insane. And knew nothing about layout—but I’d known that already. “I’d have to re-do it anyway, Bane.” I muttered, hoping to convince him to use the regular November issue.

But, because nothing can ever go my way, he just shrugged. “It’s going to be a lot of work. But it will definitely be worth it. Besides,” he winked at me, “Chicago is beautiful. Hello, Windy City!” he exclaimed, spinning around in a circle, again putting me in mind of a small child.
I managed to hide my grin, though the thought of another city made me want to throw up, a little. “You’re silly,” I informed him.

Bane’s grin was unhidden. “I do try,” he promised.
---------------------
Love,
Gracey :elmo:
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#5 peanut_butter

peanut_butter

    Meg Cabot Obsessed

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Posted 09 March 2008 - 10:32 PM

Part Five
-----------------
Again, I’m not going to describe our grueling work process, because, all in all, this is not for me. I know what happened. I mean, if I were to write about all the things in life that shaped me, this would be very boring indeed. There are only so many times a reader can put up with a lengthy description of some book that I read that made an impact, and nobody really wants to hear about the year in which I cried myself to sleep almost every night.

So, in lieu of what would be a completely honest writing, I am skipping through to the story parts. You will have to gather for yourself what makes me into me. You would be horribly bored if I took the time to describe it all. In fact, you’re probably a bit bored even now, just hearing me describe why I can’t describe things to you. You’re, in your heads, screaming, Get back to the actual story, already!

If you’re a good reader, you will have deduced by now that I detest confrontation, so I will, of course, oblige to your requests for the “actual story,” as you have so eloquently named it. Though, I must warn you—the “actual story” doesn’t resume until after Thanksgiving, when I suffered through a long family dinner. An extremely long family dinner.

Actually, the “actual story” resumes exactly one day after Thanksgiving, when Bane met me, huddling on my front stoop, in my pea coat, at seven in the morning. He sat down next to me, and handed me a cup of tea—I absolutely abhor coffee—causing me to come out of the fetal position to accept it.

“I thought you might need that,” he informed me with far too much chipper exuberance for this early on a cold morning, particularly this morning, when all the serotonin (from the tryptophan, from the turkey) was still running through our bodies, promoting fatigue. “We have a long day in front of us.”

I shivered in response, taking a sip of the tea, which was horrible and scalded my mouth, but I drank nonetheless, for the warmth that spread through my veins. Mysteriously, this seemed to make my outward body colder, and I shivered again.

He caught one of my hands as I went to tuck it back into my pocket. Last year, my gloves had met an unfortunate demise at the hands of the washing machine. I didn’t want to know how it happened, and I didn’t want to know who did it; I just wanted new gloves.

It was, in all likelihood, because of this glove tragedy that my hands were so cold. Upon feeling them, Bane got all protective—or went into what I like to call Mother Hen Mode—chiding me for sitting out in the cold so long whilst he dragged me into the car, with little protest on my
behalf.

Maybe it’s because I don’t get yelled at very often, being the soft spoken sort, but whenever I did, I felt horribly guilty. While Bane cranked the heat in the car and backed out of the driveway, I felt this horrible pit of guilt form in the pit of my stomach. This was my traditional punishment for doing something that was worthy of a reprimand. I believe in some circles they call this a conscience.

I bit my lip slightly against the self-loathing this created.

Conversation on the way to the airport was dull on my end, and exuberant on Bane’s. He apparently had friends from back home that he was planning on seeing, one of whom was coming to pick us up at the airport.

I really, really, really did not want to go flying in a plane.

The last time I was in a plane was several days after I turned nine, which is more than nine years ago. That time, my fear of flying was overshadowed my by total and utter despair, and inability to stop crying. There may or may not have been some hyperventilating during this flight, but I like to tell myself that this was because of the crying, not of the fear. But it had been okay in any case, because Uncle Mack had been there, and I had been small, so I could bury my face into his shoulder.

Now, Bane was here, and I was legally an adult (Bane, too, was not legally an adult, something from which he took intense joy), and I couldn’t very well cry onto his shoulder. And, because nothing is ever timely, Uncle Mack didn’t offer me an out on this one.

So, my feelings of apprehension, guilt, and self-loathing mounted steadily until we boarded the plane, at which point they were completely obliterated by fear. Complete and total fear.

Unlike everything else (which he notices), Bane did not seem to notice my bone white knuckles holding onto the armrests for dear life; he calmly read his magazine in the seat next to mine—the aisle seat, the sadist—reading the book that he had intelligently brought along.

In fact, it was not until my gasp of mental pain, physical anguish, and all-around terror, prompted by our first jolt of motion, that Bane noticed me at all. Not that I could see him, of course—my eyes were screwed as tightly shut as I could manage, along the rationale that if we crashed, I didn’t want to see it coming.

But I felt his hands on my face, turning me towards him, and his reassuring mutter. “Deirdre, it’s okay. Open your eyes, sweetheart.” Sweetheart? That was a progression from “brat.” “Stop hyperventilating.”

Oh, was I hyperventilating? I took a moment to assess through my ultimate terror, and realized that yes, I in fact was hyperventilating. Bane pushed a strand of hair out of my face with what felt like the pad of his thumb. “Please relax, Deirdre.” He sounded so worried that I opened my eyes to reassure him.

His face was close enough that I could look into his electrically blue eyes, and pretend that I wasn’t on the plane. Oh, gosh, I just thought the word of the mode of transportation which I was currently employing. Bane pressed his forehead against mine, and I breathed his comfortable smell, and he took my hands in his, muttering, “That’s right. Just breathe, in and out. Good. Calm down.”

This went on for several minutes—and I was starting to feel a little better, despite the weird feeling building in my ears—until some soccer mom tapped Bane on the back of the head. He moved his head to look at her, and instantly the plane smell and the plane sights came back. I snapped my eyes shut, feeling my breathing speed increase.

“I would appreciate it, young man,” Soccer Mom said in an extremely prissy tone, “if you and your girlfriend would not act so in public places.” If not paralyzed by my panic, I would have shot Soccer Mom a very dirty look at this. “There are children here, you know.”

I opened my eyes, just to test out the very dirty look thing, and caught sight of three pairs of evilly gleeful eyes peering through the seats. Then I closed my eyes again.

Using a tone that was much more impolite than his usual, Bane snapped, “One, she’s not my girlfriend. Two, ma’am, can’t you see that she’s clearly having a panic attack? We weren’t doing anything. I was trying to calm her down.”

Flustered by Bane’s offensive attitude, Soccer Mom backpedaled. “I- I see. I’m sorry. Please don’t let her throw up.” As if he would have any control over it if I started to puke.

“What a crazy lady,” Bane whispered calmingly as he pressed his forehead back to mine. “She thought we were, like, making out on an airplane. You’d have to be some freaking exhibitionist to do something crazy like that…”
***
The rest of the trip was kind of a blur. Considering our flight (fear it) had left at twelve thirty—I wasn’t too keen on the details as to why we’d left my house to early in the morning—we’d arrived at Chicago at two, Chicago time, even though we’d been in the flying death trap for two and a half hours. However, I was only able to figure this out later.

I didn’t remember the baggage claim at all—in fact, I wasn’t even sure we visited it. I hadn’t checked my bag, and I didn’t think Bane had checked his. But I was in a sort of post-panic stupor. Apparently, being terrified for three hours plus not eating for an entire day takes a lot out of someone. I was dimly aware of Bane’s arm around my waist, half supporting me through the airport.

We probably looked pretty strange. It’s really lucky that Bane is so strong.

I was slumped on a bench, holding Bane’s hand, while he chattered into a cell phone. On a side note, it amazed me that not only did most of the teenagers I knew (most meaning all but me) have a cell phone, but actually seemed to use it with some regularity. If I owned one, I would never use it. Which is why I don’t. Own one, that is.

“Yeah, we’re past the baggage claim. No, the third turnstile.” My head lolled back against the wall. I was really, really tired. I hadn’t slept well the night before, having been filled with the absolute terror of planes. I started to doze, and Bane rubbed his fingers absentmindedly against the back of my hand. Mmm, that felt nice.

“Cooper!” he called suddenly, loudly, and in proximity to my ear. “Over here!”

His hand left mine and I opened my eyes to see him greet a tall, blonde boy with one of those boy-hugs. “Ebola!” this Cooper character greeted Bane enthusiastically—at least I assumed this was his greeting. I really couldn’t think of any other explanation than that he was warning us not to come near, because he had Ebola… but Bane laughed, so this seemed unlikely.

“Cholera!” he shouted in return. Surreptitiously, so Bane wouldn’t see (ergo, comment), I smiled slightly. Clearly this was some sort of inside joke. I’d never had an inside joke before, but it was cute to see Bane and Cooper act out theirs.

Some people may have felt jealous that Bane had found Cooper, and currently had no interest in me. I was not of this persuasion. You may be forgetting that, despite some actions that may make it seem otherwise, Bane and I are not friends. Sometimes I felt bad that he spent all his time with me, someone with whom he was not friends, but usually this was a passing guilt. It was a choice he was making, and certainly he did have cross country friends that I didn’t know about.

Instead of talking for a while—if I had any friends, I would probably talk to them when I saw them for the first time in months—Bane and Cooper (who seemed to be cut from the exact same cloth as my illustrious editor) got right down to business.

“Coop, this is Deirdre,” he introduced me. Still feeling kind of sleepy, but determined to be polite, I stood up. Cooper blew a small sized bubble with the gum he had in his mouth—I used to be a truly excellent bubble blower; I could teach Cooper a few tricks—and stuck out his hand for me to shake. I shot Bane a look and he gave one quick nod, with one eyebrow raised.

I shook Cooper’s hand. “Nice to meet you, Deirdre. I’m Cholera.” Bane smacked him good-naturedly on the shoulder. “What?” Cooper complained. “It’s tradition! We could give her one too, if you want. I’m thinking Dysentery.”

Bane shook his head. “Don’t scare her, Coop.” He took my hand again—I was sort of staring absently off into space at this point…I was extremely tired—and Cooper took my bag. Oh, well, that was nice of him. “Ready to go, brat?” he asked me, jolting me out of my non-reverie.
With a nod from me, we stumbled off towards the car (well, maybe stumbling is a bit extreme), with the background noise of that horrible airport PA system and the scintillating conversation of Coop and Bane.

“I tell you, Ebola, she’s an enigma, wrapped up in a mystery, wrapped up in confusion, wrapped up in a little blonde riddle.” Somehow, this was said with an extremely cheerful demeanor, and apparently complete seriousness. Cooper, it appeared, had a girl in his life. “She confuses the hell out of me, and she’s really smart.”

Bane—a.k.a. Ebola, which I couldn’t get over—laughed. He laughed a lot with this Cooper person, which I was beginning to like. He did have a really nice laugh. “I know. She emailed me the other day and used the words, ‘phonetically, inferentially, banal,’ and ‘systemically potentially problematic.’”

We passed through the doors—the final set of doors!—and I could smell real air, instead of bad airport air. The Windy City was not as windy as I’d suspected it would be. Cooper groaned. “Proudly, I do not know any of those words. I file them under things to say when I want to be mocked or punched in the face.” He grew thoughtfully silent for a moment. “I think I just misquoted something.”

Unlocking the car that had been our stopping point, Cooper threw my bag into one side of the backseat while his friend threw me (though moderately more gently) into the other side. I laid my head against the window as the car engine rocked me, and immediately fell asleep.
***
In my dream, there was a very strange conversation. Bane and Cooper were talking, about me. “So then I told him,” Cooper said, “that under no circumstances would I…” he trailed off.

“Train of thought disembarking,” Bane joked. “Next train leaving in two days.”

There was a moment of silence from Cooper. “Alright, Ebola, she’s asleep. Now I expect you to tell me everything.”

Bane seemed confused. “Deirdre’s asleep, do you mean? And tell you what?”

“Yes, Deirdre, you idiot,” he huffed condescendingly. “And I want to know how you convinced your mom—and hers—to let you come home for a weekend with your girlfriend. Whatever your secret is, I want to know. I want to go somewhere with Samantha.” There were definitely innuendoes in his last statement.

“Oh, no,” said Bane, hastily backpedaling. I could imagine that he had his hands out in front of him defensively as he said this. “Deirdre’s not my girlfriend.”

Cooper hissed some air out through his teeth. “You were holding her hand, though. Why is she not your girlfriend? I want details, Bane, and I want them now. I realize that I’m like a little girl with gossip, but I don’t care.”

His voice sounding anguished, Bane tried and failed to sound nonchalant. “I couldn’t believe she let me do that. Usually she shies away from any contact from anyone—I don’t know if she even notices it. And as for why she’s not my girlfriend, well, I’ve never shown her any evidence that I want her to be my girlfriend.”

“Can I date her, then?” Cooper joked. “She’s pretty hot.”

“No,” Bane growled. “And I doubt Samantha would appreciate that sentiment.”

From the sound of things, Cooper shrugged. I kind of wished that I could see things in this dream. “Samantha tells me all the time that she thinks the weatherman is hot. But we’re not talking about Samantha. We’re talking about you and your girl Deirdre back there. Tell me why you’ve never given her any reason to think that you want her to be your girlfriend?”

“Because I don’t want her to?” Bane asked.

“Bull crap,” Cooper retorted cheerfully. “You obviously do. Now, tell me why you don’t do something about it. If she let you hold her hand like that—which was in a very romantic way, I might add—she clearly likes you.”

Next in the conversational dream: a sigh from Bane. “She doesn’t like me. I don’ t think she even considers me a friend.”

“What kind of non friend would come with you all the way to Chicago?”

Again, Bane sighed. “Deirdre is…different. And she’s completely devoted to this magazine. She wants to see it do well so much that she works with me even though I sauntered in and took over the job she should have gotten.”

The deeper kind of sleep threatened to wash over me, but I fought it off. I wanted to see how this dream turned out. “We’re going to my house for a bit first, by the way. And that’s not that different, Bane. You remember how Samantha is about our magazine. I think she loves it more than me.”

“It’s not like that, Coop. Have you noticed yet that she doesn’t talk? And if you let her just sit there, she wouldn’t move. She’s got some issue that I can’t get my head around. I think it has something to do with her mom, because she lives with her aunt and uncle. I can’t figure it out. But it kills me, just kills me, that she won’t let me help.”

Cooper groaned. “You never could go for the easy girl, could you? You remember in sophomore year, when that cheerleader was crazy about you, but you kept going after Samantha, who, by the way, liked me better? Yeah, that was stupid, Ebola. This is possibly just as stupid.”

Bane sighed. If he did this too many more times, our trip was going to be a melancholy fest. “I know.”

“You like her a lot, don’t you?”

“Yep. Probably more than I should, considering she takes every possible opportunity to tell me she hates me, but yeah, I do.”

“Don’t worry,” Cooper soothed. “Samantha hates me too, and look where we are!”

“Where’s that?” Bane asked, a bit despondently.

Cooper chuckled. “Sleeping together, Ebola. And dates on Friday nights.”

Bane groaned. “Not to channel Deirdre and Samantha, but I hate you, you know that, right?”

Again, Cooper chuckled. “Totally to channel you, but you keep telling yourself that. Please tell me you don’t still say that to people. Please, please tell me that.” Bane muttered something unintelligible under his breath. “What’s that?”

“I said, ‘I’m a bad liar.’”
***
Thunk. Pause. Thunk.

The car rolled over a bump, first the front wheels—causing my head to shack against the widow somewhat—and then the back wheels—caushing my head to slam against the window hard enough to be significantly painful.

Groaning and clutching my head, I slumped over to the side—the other side, not the one with the window, mind you. All in all, that was probably one of the more unpleasant ways to be awaken— that I’d ever experienced, anyway. Bane swiveled in his seat to look at me, and met my surprised dark eyes with his equally surprised blue ones.

Then, sans comment, he turned back to Cooper. “We forgot to warn her about the bump, Coop.” He turned back around to me. “Sorry, we forgot to warn you about the bump, brat. Fell over?”

“Hit my head,” I muttered. So maybe I talked with Bane more or less regularly, but I wasn’t accustomed to talking to him in the presence of others. On the misery scale, it was between talking completely to someone I didn’t know, and not talking. To narrow down the margin in which I could be uncomfortable, it was less uncomfortable than getting called on in class, and more uncomfortable than talking to Bane alone.

Understand now?

“We probably should have told her about the bump,” Cooper admitted. “How’s the head, Dysentery?”

I sat up, rubbing my head. We appeared to be in some sort of driveway—Cooper’s, I had to deduce. It was starting to get a little darker, but the sun hadn’t really much set, yet. Then again, I supposed that this was because Chicago was some numbers of hours behind Middletown, Pennsylvania.

Something stirred in my memory. I had dreamed of…something. I couldn’t remember what. Something to do with Bane and Cooper, although that was hardly remarkable, seeing as they’d been the last people for me to see before falling asleep. Well, no matter.

“Good,” I mumbled, in response to Cooper’s question. So apparently I was Dysentery, now. Fumbling with my seat belt, and followed Bane out of the car. He had a distinctly sour look on his face that intensified when he looked at me. “What’s the matter?” I whispered.

He looked at me as if I were crazy. “I’m fine,” he whispered back.

“Then why are we whispering,” I, well, whispered.

Bane and I looked at each other for a fleeting moment, then he burst out laughing. For a short moment I stared at him, and then followed suit.
His laugh was raucous, loud but not obnoxious, the leader of the dance. Mine was quiet, like me, but neither high nor giggling. I had a chortle.
Forgive me for assessing my laugh, but I’d never really heard it before. I mean, in recent times, I’d almost laughed, but never really. It was sort of an interesting phenomenon.

Bane’s hands were suddenly on my head, which I’d been clutching. I’d hit my head hard. “You have a nice laugh,” he complimented, guiding my hands away. “How’s your head?” He prodded gently; I winced.

The sour look returned. “I’m fine,” I informed him gently, taking his hands between mine and bringing them down to waist level. Bane looked down at our connected hands.

“Ebola!” Cooper called from the porch, looking down on us with raised eyebrows. Bane’s head jerked up. “Are you coming? Samantha will be angry if we keep her waiting.”

Samantha? Why did this name sound familiar, too? And why did, at the mention of her name, he drop my hands and bolt up to the porch? Usually Bane is allowing and accepting of my inherent slowness, but he was excited to be this Samantha person. Was she his girlfriend?
Not that it would matter to me if she were. I hadn’t even a claim of friendship on Bane, so it wasn’t an issue. But I still sort of wanted to know, because I’m just curious like that.

Unlike his friend, Cooper waited outside for me. “Come along, fair lady.” He bowed gallantly, and then offered his arm. I accepted thoughtlessly, not even having to hold in a laugh the way I might have had to, if I weren’t so perplexed by Bane’s strange behavior.
“I’m not fair,” I corrected, as I would if this were someone with whom I were familiar. With hair that was not quite black, I was very nearly the opposite of fair.

Inside, Bane was embracing an older woman, with a younger girl—and when I say younger, I mean she might have been my age—standing on. When he was done hugging the woman, who then kissed him on either cheek, he gave the younger girl a, “Hello, Samantha,” and a really tight hug, spinning her around.

When he turned so that he was facing me, he froze and dropped this Samantha character. She, in turn, faced where I still had my arm entwined through Cooper’s. “Now look at this,” she smirked with a piping Scottish accent. “Cooper’s got someone interesting on his arm. Care to introduce me to someone, Coop?” She was teasing, that was obvious, but I felt my face turn red at “someone interesting.” I felt, somehow, like I was being mocked. Immediately, I dropped my arm from Cooper’s.

Cooper laughed. “You really want to start that, Samantha? Because when I walked in, you were hugging some guy.”

Samantha kissed Bane on the cheek and then wrapped her arms around his waist. “Oh, Coop, meet my new boyfriend, alright?” The elderly woman and Cooper laughed. I stood coolly, assessing the situation as I always did. Bane stared back at us—well, he stared back at me—a bit blankly, but with a definite lace of panic in his glance.

Taking two swift steps forward, Cooper was holding Samantha around the waist, and jerking her away from Bane; she allowed this without much difficulty. “Listen, Ebola,” Cooper said with mock anger, “you stay away from my girlfriend or I’ll have to beat you up, and you’re my best friend, so I don’t want to have to do that.”

“Of course, Cholera,” Bane allowed, still looking at me, “I won’t mess with your girlfriend.” I nodded once—he was trying to communicate that he hadn’t been keeping this from me. Instantly, the harassed undertone in his expression disappeared, and he came to stand behind me with discernable relief.

The woman in the room had been watching this interaction as keenly as I had been, and now her gaze flicked from myself to Bane and then back again. Why did everyone think we were dating? It was really starting to get a little irritating.

“Bane,” she admonished, “why aren’t you introducing me to your friend?” Her behavior was motherly, teasing, but still assessing.

He came to stand behind me and put his hands on my shoulders. “Mrs. Randolph, it is my great pleasure to introduce my production manager, Deirdre Clements. Deirdre, this is dopey’s totally awesome mom, Mrs. Randolph.” He jabbed his thumb into my shoulder blade, and I obligingly stuck my hand out to shake.

“Hello, Deirdre,” she greeted me exuberantly. “It’s lovely to meet you. Whatever that display might have suggested,” she waved a hand at the other three in the room, “we are not in fact totally barbaric around here.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Barbaric definitely wasn’t the right word.” She laughed at herself a little.

I tried to smile, for the sake of this lovely woman, but failed. I wasn’t much of a smiley person. There was a long, extremely awkward pause.
Then, Samantha interjected with, “So, when do you need to be at the university, Bane?” His name sounded funny in her accent. Perhaps it was intolerant of me to say so, but it did.

Possibly one of the weirdest things I’ve ever experienced was being able to feel Bane shrug. “The first lecture is at nine tomorrow, and we technically have to be there at noon, but I want to be in our room pretty early tonight. Time change and all of that.”

Samantha pursed her lips. “You can’t come home for a weekend and then expect us to let you sleep, Baney.” I had to snort down a laugh at the name “Baney.” “Tonight, at least, we’re doing something. It is a Friday night. Please work with us.”

Cooper grinned. “I’m going to have to side with her, Ebola. We haven’t seen you since the end of August. We want a play date!”
“I’m not getting involved in this,” Mrs. Randolph announced, throwing up her hands as she left the room.

“I can’t leave Deirdre behind,” Bane stuttered, obviously trying to find a reason not to go. I could have told his friends as much, but nobody was asking me. On an unrelated note, his grip was starting to get uncomfortably tight on my shoulders. It was actually starting to hurt a little bit.

“Then bring her!” Samantha and Cooper ordered in unison. It was a little frightening that they could do that. I couldn’t even fathom knowing someone so well that we would say the same things at the same time.

Bane blew out an irritated breath—which incidentally hit the back of my hair, ruffling it a bit—trying to think of a reply to this. “I—well—ugh!”

Samantha smiled, clearly very self-satisfied. “Fine!” he snapped.

Samantha and Cooper exchanged self-satisfied high fives.
***
That was how I found myself at some s(*&%$#$$%%y restaurant with Bane, Cooper, and Samantha. This was the kind of place that I normally wouldn’t have been caught dead in, or rather, that I couldn’t afford to be caught dead in. It was uncomfortable, spendthrift, and it made me want to throw up.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t completely spendthrift, because it wasn’t as if they were all ordering caviar, or something, but it wasn’t a cheap restaurant. And the fact that Cooper had announced that the whole thing was his treat blew my mind. Hence, I’d bought a salad, the cheapest thing on the menu.

“And so I told her,” Samantha said, giggling already, before the punch line. They’d spent the better part of tonight talking about people and things that I knew nothing about. I didn’t blame them, honestly. I would probably do something similar (on a quieter scale) if I were seeing Bane for the first time in three months. “And so I told her, ‘You can eat it if you want, but it’s not a banana smoothie. It’s a blended turkey and potatoes dinner.’ And then she ate it anyway.”

Bane snorted, then turned to me. “You’re doing okay?” He kept asking this. It was sweet, if impractical. He also kept playing idly with the ends of my hair, leading me to suspect that he was dead bored. I was dead bored.

The restaurant was almost part-club, but it was dry. Although I believed—it wasn’t as if I’d read the rules and regulations, or anything—anyone legal could bring their own alcohol. I didn’t much care. The booths all were situated around the edges of the room, and in the middle was a small dance floor, made out of the same linoleum that was a hit for kitchen floors in the nineties. It was rather hideous, yet quaint, and I sort of liked it.

Eventually, and probably inevitably, Samantha decided to dance. This didn’t surprise me. She was a really bright character, both intellectually and personality wise. Everything about her was excited, vibrant. She just seemed like a person who was excited about whatever was going on.
However, with her, she dragged Bane out of the booth, not Cooper. Bane left with one helpless look—a silent plea for help—to which I shrugged a reply. What did he want me to do, anyway? Silly boy should realize that I’m all but helpless in situations like this.
Cooper watched them with a wry twist to his mouth. “Bane had this huge thing for Samantha for a long time,” he informed me when he caught me looking. I felt a strange twist in my stomach. “It’s that damn literary magazine—well, you know. Let me guess; you spend all your time with Bane?”

I took a sip of my water, turning my eyes to where Bane and Samantha were on the dance floor. He kept looking back towards the booth, but she was just having fun. “Yes, we have to work together quite often,” I answered formally.

Cooper, too, took a sip of his drink. “Well, that’s what it was like for Bane and Samantha sophomore year. She’s just moved here from Scotland, and he was one of the first people she met. So she sort of clung to him for a while.”

“This sounds awfully familiar.” Yes, I talked to Cooper. I kind of liked him, actually. We’d been getting to know each other most of the night. You can start breathing again now.

“How so?” Cooper asked.

I shrugged, turning away from Bane and Samantha. It was kind of making me sick. “I’m more of less the first person Bane met in Middletown. And, as far as I can see, he hadn’t really made any close friends.”

“Besides you,” Cooper corrected. I shrugged again. “Well, like I was saying, Bane had this huge crush on Samantha, and she liked me. I wouldn’t have gotten involved, but Bane told me to go for it. But I don’t think he ever really got over her—he hasn’t dated anyone since, I don’t think. But Samantha doesn’t know, and I’m afraid she’s going to break his heart all over again.”

I took another bite of the dessert I’d opted to share with Bane. “Then why don’t you tell her?” I asked. “It seems like that would fix a lot of problems.”

This time, it was Cooper’s turn to shrug. “I promised Bane I wouldn’t. And he has you, now. So I think it will be okay.” Suddenly he was talking very closely, very seriously. “Do you like him, Dysentery?”

I blinked, unsure of the connotations of this sentence. “I like him well enough,” I allowed. Cooper nodded, but his eyes narrowed suspiciously, hiding disappointment. I imagined that most all of Cooper’s problems would go away if I started dating Bane.

Then, he stood up, offering me a hand. “Let’s go dance,” he ordered, mock sternly.

Shaking my head, I stammered, “Oh, no. I don’t dance. I don’t move that fast, Coop.”

He grinned. “Just come on, you wet blanket. Everyone dances sometimes. And besides,” he pointed out, when I opened my mouth to object, “it’s a slow song, so you don’t have to move quickly.” I tried to protest further, but he took my hand and pulled me to my feet. I decided that it was easier not to try to resist.

I’d never really danced with a boy, before. In fact, I’d never really danced with anyone before. It was a little awkward, to have Cooper’s arms around my waist as if it were the easiest thing in the world. Instinctively, I began to shy away from the contact. He allowed me to put a little space between us, but held fast when I tried to pull away altogether. Hesitantly, lightly, I put my hands on his shoulders, unsure of what to actually do with them.

I’d barely made contact with Cooper’s shoulders (which freaked me out a lot, not going to lie; I mean, just because I could talk to the dude a little bit for Bane’s sake didn’t mean I was going to touch him all of a sudden), he stepped back, to face Bane. Apparently Bane had tapped him on the shoulder, or something.

“Mind if I cut in?” he asked me jokingly. I crinkled my nose and shook my head, and he resumed Cooper’s position—I could only assume that Coop went off to find Samantha, who I was pretty sure I didn’t like—only more lightly.

How was dancing with Bane any different than having his hand in mine to get towed along in an airport? The way I saw it, it wasn’t. So, for me, at least, it was more comfortable to be with him than anyone else. I put my hands around his neck, in the way of the other couples around me, and moved in a bit closer (so I didn’t have to stretch).

Seeming surprised yet pleased by this, Bane put his arms around my waist a little more securely. Still, this being the main difference between us and the rest of the dance partners in the room, there was tangible space between our bodies. So maybe I wasn’t an expert on dealing with people yet, but hey, it was a start.
***
Our room had only one bed. I wasn’t entirely sure how that worked out—it was a dorm room, and dorm rooms typically had two beds—but this room contained only one bed. Sure, it was a large bed, considering that this was a dorm room, but there was only one. And Bane and I made two people.

It was around ten when Samantha and Cooper dropped us off, after many hugs on the part of Samantha and Bane and Samantha and Cooper. Nobody paid much attention to me, for which I was grateful. I wasn’t the biggest fan of being paid attention to.

We’d then dragged ourselves up three flights of stairs to the room we’d been assigned, which Bane had written down on a slip of paper in his wallet (why he always had the information, and why they were always on pieces of paper that could so easily be misplaced was a mystery to me) and opened the door with the key we’d been given (also in Bane’s wallet) to find one bed.

I sat down on the floor next to the bed, and rooted through my bag for my pajamas. I really, really loved pajamas. “You can have the bed,” Bane offered, a gentleman as always. Well, today he’d been acting sort of strangely, but I suspected that it was because he thought I was going to have another New York style panic attack. But Chicago was a bit different than New York in a way that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It was quieter, sure, a little, but that wasn’t it.

The bed, though, sounded excellent. I would have loved to sleep on the bed. But then my brain, as it has an awful habit of doing, decided to think. It reminded me of all the hard work Bane had done for the magazine, and all the stress he’d gone through with me on the plane, and the harassment of having to drag me along while he went out with his friends. It was an unhappy realization, but I knew that he really deserved to have it. I hate my brain, sometimes.

“You take it,” I insisted, coming up with my pajamas triumphantly. I delved back in for my toothbrush and the toothpaste that I hadn’t forgotten this time. “You deserve it.”

Bane sat down next to me and began going through his bag, even though it would have been much easier to sit on the bed to perform this task. It seemed as if neither of us wanted to lay a tangible claim on it, like sixth grade girls flopping on a bunk at summer camp to “call” it.

“Deirdre,” he commanded, “I’m trying to be nice here. Just take the bed.” His command lost some of its grandeur because his face was muffled by his bag. Those are the dregs, boy.

My brain started thinking again. The idea wasn’t a good one, and it wasn’t very happy making, but I had to suggest it, now that I’d thought of it. “Well,” I hedged, unsure of how to say this without it coming out the wrong way, “but it’s a big bed and neither of us want to take it, it seems. We could, well, share?” I inadvertently made the last sentence into a question.

Bane’s head snapped up so quickly I thought he was going to get whiplash. “You’re okay with that?” he sounded like he was trying to swallow a turtle, or something else that was on the large side and alive.

I shrugged. “Sure.”

He returned my shrug. “Then sure.”
***
Again, we used a pillow to divide our halves; it would have simply been too much otherwise. In any case, it would have been, according to the regular standards of society, highly inappropriate. But it wasn’t as if I fit the regular standards of society that well.

It was about ten thirty by this point, but I figured that I didn’t have to get up until eight, since we were already on campus. And I had a question I wanted to ask. “Bane?”

His hand was on mine again—this was becoming an alarming pattern—and the circles that his thumb was making faltered slightly when I called his name. I could only see the outline of his shape in the darkness, not the expression on his face. “Yes, Deirdre?”

“Do you still love Samantha?” Perhaps it was crossing the line, but I had to ask. I had two reasons for this inquiry—I severely disliked Samantha, and I wanted to know how much we’d be forced to hang around her over the next few days.

“What?” he spluttered, squeezing my hand unexpectedly. “Have you been talking to Cooper?”

I winced, and was glad he couldn’t see. “Maybe.”

Bane laughed humorlessly. “I should have known he’d tell you. Stupid Cholera likes to stick his nose in everything.”

“I won’t tell her,” I promised solemnly. Much as I disliked Samantha, I wouldn’t betray Bane or Cooper’s trust to make her upset.

The circles that his thumb was making resumed. “It’s not a big deal. And, to answer your question, no. I never loved her, brat. I liked her, yeah, I had a thing for her, yeah, but I never loved her.”

This was good to know. I snuggled into my pillow.

“Anything else, silly girl?” Bane asked, a note of forced humor in his voice.

With my free hand, I tucked the blanked more firmly around me. November nights were cold. “Nope. Wait,” I corrected myself, “one more.”

“What’s that?” Like me, Bane was starting to sound a little sleepy.

I shifted, so that I was facing him. Even though neither of us could see, it just felt like the polite thing to do. “Why have you been acting so strangely today? Ever since we got here, you’ve been watching me. A lot.”

Bane groaned. “You have to ask me the hard questions when I’m almost asleep, don’t you, brat?” I nodded, then realized that Bane couldn’t see me, and then felt like an idiot. “The thing is, I’m not used to being around Cooper. I’d forgotten what a flirt he is. That’s why he and Samantha are so ridiculously perfect for each other. I just didn’t want him to mess with you, so I made sure he didn’t.” I could imagine the shrug that would accompany this, or perhaps the gesture made with his free hand. “I’m sorry if it bothered you. I won’t do it anymore.

“Oh,” I whispered. Well, that was innocent enough. “It didn’t bother me. Good night, Bane.” I snuggled into my pillow to go to sleep.

“Good night, brat.”
***
The next day was shockingly similar to the New York seminar, only everything was, well, better. The magazines were better, the lectures were more in-depth, and the setting wasn’t scary. In fact, I was sort of in love with the Columbia College of Chicago. It was really pretty, and really nice. It also happened to be one of the colleges that my guidance counselor had made me apply to, so it was nice that I liked it, at least.

That night, Samantha and Cooper popped into say hello. Again, I understood this. I didn’t like it, but I understood it. I laid on my bed, reading some of the free magazines that Bane and I had been given today, and more or less ignored the whole thing.

Soon enough, though, Cooper and Bane got into a conversation about sports, and Samantha came to sit next to me on the bed. I sat up and stopped reading, because that was the polite thing to do. “You have really pretty hair,” Samantha complimented me.

“Thank you,” I accepted. I didn’t exactly believe her, but the compliment called for thanks. I wasn’t sure if she was fishing for a compliment in response, so I gave her something that was true. “Your hair is more interesting than mine, though.” There. Let her take that as she would.

Samantha laughed a high, pure laugh. “Hardly. I have bubblegum curls.” That she did: her blonde bob formed perfect ringlets. “You’re exotically pretty, though. What kind of makeup do you use?”

I blinked at her. One, I was being showered with compliments, and two, I was being asked about my choice of makeup? It was all very weird, and I wasn’t sure I liked it. “I don’t use makeup,” I all but whispered. Somehow, talking to Samantha, it seemed like a bad thing.
And, sure enough, she seemed really shocked. “What? None?” When I shook my head, she continued. “Well, you’d be positively gorgeous if we accented your eyes. They’re so pretty and dynamic.”

“They’re brown,” I stated in a flat monotone.

Samantha was rooting through her purse, which was suspiciously large. It was practically the size of my duffel bag. I was starting to get a bad feeling about this. “But they’re a really pretty brown,” she insisted. From her bag she pulled a smaller bag, which appeared to be filled with makeup.

Horrified, I watched her take several items out of the bag and lay them on the bed. Surely she didn’t intend to try these products on me, did she? I couldn’t imagine applying that much gook to my face ever, let alone in one fell swoop.

“Come in the bathroom,” she pleaded, getting up and starting towards it, as if to lead the way. “I’ll give you a makeover.”

I tried to smile reassuringly, or perhaps flippantly, but it came out more as a grimace. “No, thanks,” I muttered weakly. By now I was quite aware that the boys had allowed a temporary halt in their conversation to listen.

“No, really,” Samantha urged. “I insist.”

“Bane?” I asked despondently, looking for support. But, of course, I got none.

He laughed instead of being on my side. “Nah, I think we should let her have at it. I look forward to seeing it, Samantha.” Well, he did promise that he wasn’t going to act strangely any more. Without having anyone to be on my side, I allowed Samantha to drag me into the bathroom and sit me down on the toilet (the lid was closed, you silly people).

In her hand, she had several tubes and covered disks, none of which I immediately recognized. Where was the lipstick? I though makeup was lipstick! “What’s that?” I asked worriedly.

“Foundation, though you’re so pale that I don’t think it will work—but you have really clear skin anyway, mascara, eyeliner, eye shadow, lip gloss, and a powder that I bought once that’s too light for me, but will probably work for you.” In case anyone is wondering, no, I didn’t understand any of that, really.

She took one look at a bottle, and then muttered, “Nope. No go on the foundation.” She cast that aside, putting it on the other side of the sink from her various torture devices. “Let’s try eyeliner then, shall we?”

Uncapping one of the tubes, she showed me a pencil like thing that was an actually quite pretty shade of purple. “This color will bring out your eyes, I think,” she explained to me, holding my head in a viselike grip. She brought the pencil thing close to my eye, which was a rather alarming thing, for me.

And, of course, when she got really close, her perfume made me sneeze. Which caused me to jab my eye into the sharp pencil thing.
I bent over in pain, clutching my eye, accidentally smacking my nose into Samantha’s knee. I threw my other hand over that, sitting curled up into a little ball on the toilet. My eye was watering profusely, and my nose was bleeding at roughly the same rate. Samantha’s hands were on my shoulders, shaking me a little (this was hardly helpful). “Oh my God,” she was squealing, sounding alarmed. “Oh, Deirdre, Deirdre, are you alright?”

I shook my head a little, but pulled up out of my defensive crouch. From the way Samantha gasped and threw her hands over her mouth (this was, I felt, a tad melodramatic), I supposed the blood from my nose wasn’t exactly being contained by my fingers. “Bane! Cooper!” she called, running from the bathroom. I didn’t think that Bane and Cooper would fit in this bathroom together. It was a toilet and a sink. Samantha and I had barely managed.

Standing up, I looked in the mirror. My eye was really red, with a smudge of purple coming out of the lower corner. My nose was more or less
gushing, so I grabbed a wad of toilet paper to staunch the flow.

It was my eye that I was worried about. Whatever that purple pencil stuff had been, it really burned. I’d had nosebleeds before. But my eye was extremely red, burning, and tearing like mad.

I was just reaching for another wad of toilet paper when Bane came to the doorway, a nervous looking Samantha on his heels. Evidently Cooper had opted to stay out of this little party. Taking one look at my irritated expression, and seeing that I clearly wasn’t hurt badly, Bane burst into laughter. “I can’t believe that you managed to get hurt,” he gasped out, “while putting on makeup.”

Instead of throwing out the bloody toilet paper, like I’d planned, I shoved it in his face, leaving a smudge of red on his cheek. “Aw, Deirdre, that’s just disgusting,” he complained, wiping off his face. “You’d better not have some blood transmitted disease.”

“I have twelve,” I snapped, checking my nose. It appeared that I had stopped bleeding. I turned on the faucet to flush out my eye. “And, according to Cooper, Dysentery, too.”

Bane chortled. Stupid sadist; I was glad he found my pain to be so blessedly amusing. “Let me see, brat,” he requested. I continued blinking my eye in handfuls of water, which was also kind of painful. “I’m sorry, Deirdre,” he apologized when I didn’t react. “Let me see your eye.”
I stood back up, and looked at my eye in the mirror, then wiped a little trickle of blood from under my nose. It was still kind of red, but it looked fine for now. “It’s okay,” I reassured him. “I’m not going to die.”

“Good,” Bane informed me, starting to turn away, “because that would mean a lot of paperwork for me, you know.”
-----------------------------
Love,
Gracey :elmo:
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#6 peanut_butter

peanut_butter

    Meg Cabot Obsessed

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Posted 09 March 2008 - 10:40 PM

Part Six
(aka, the last part y'll've already read.)
-------------------------
“Hello!” some girl greeted exuberantly. I looked up—she was standing over me, from where I sat in one of Sunday morning’s lectures. Was she talking to me?

“Hello?” I asked tentatively. She beamed. This was strange; I wasn’t used to being approached by random strangers, at all. But here I was, talking to a girl who reminded me a lot of Katy, except her hair was brown instead of red. Actually, she looked a lot like Katy.

The girl tugged on a curl. “Is anyone sitting here?” she asked, pointing to the seat next to me, which I found pointedly empty. “I’m Morgan Sarkozi.” She pronounced her last name like the president of France.

“No,” I replied. For the first time, Bane and I had decided that it would be okay to go to two different seminars. This was because, one, I wasn’t terrified of this school, two, I really wanted to go to this layout workshop and he wanted to go to something stupid, and three, because I was still kind of irritated about my eye, and didn’t much feel like talking to anyone.

On an aside, my eye still hurt every time I blinked.

Morgan sat down next to me. “Isn’t this exciting?” she chirped. I took this to be a rhetorical question. “I mean, I’m so glad I got to come. Getting invited was such an honor, and then I had to pay for the plane ticket! It was such a battle with my mom!”

“Mmmm,” I hummed.

“And it’s so expensive,” she chimed. I looked at her strangely. What? I hadn’t had to pay for anything—according to Bane, we’d been sponsored by the program.

Tilting my head, I asked, “What do you mean, so expensive?”

Weird Morgan tilted her head in reply. “Well, there’s the entrance fee, and then the plane ticked, unless you’re from around here. What do you mean, what do I mean?”

Something wasn’t making sense here. “Didn’t the college pay for you?” I asked.

Morgan looked at me like I was crazy. “The college didn’t pay for anyone. If you didn’t pay for yourself, someone who’s not telling you did.”
***
I stalked across campus with far more speed than I usually employed. Bane was set to meet me at the central commons, and I was going to confront him on this. How dare he be so condescending? He had paid for my entrance fee? What was he trying to say? Just because I might not have lived in some stupid rich house with all my stupid piles of money didn’t mean I needed his charity!

I stood in the middle of where we were supposed to meet, and looked around angrily, more ready than ever to give Bane a piece of my mind. If I’d been able to yell at him that first day, I’d be able to really scream this time, after three months of getting used to talking to him.

My anger made the bad feeling in the pit of my stomach stir, but I tried to ignore it. More than angry, I was humiliated. Maybe there was a good reason. Maybe Morgan had been wrong. Must as I wanted to justify Bane’s actions, I knew in my head that he hadn’t been up front with me, and that made me furious.

After a good thirty seconds, I spotted him, standing on the far side of the area. It was relatively crowded here, so I wove through people towards him. About halfway there, I stopped—he was talking to a girl I’d never seen before. I may have been furious, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t control myself and be polite. I watched as the girl first grabbed his hand, and then kissed Bane on the cheek.

Something just snapped—I wasn’t sure what it was. My anger, my shame, and now my confusion all compacted into a horrible feeling that I couldn’t control. My mind raced, thinking of Bane’s pity, and this other girl, and I knew then that no matter how much I didn’t like him, I cared about what he thought of me. The feeling in my stomach squished into a knot of pain, and I knew that I didn’t want to think anymore.
***
It wasn’t hard to get a knife. In the school cafeteria (I supposed it would still be called a cafeteria, even in college), there was a rack of dishes set out to dry. I merely took a sharp-looking knife, promising myself that I would bring it back later.

Then, not bothering to think about how I had another lecture starting, or the fact that by now Bane would be looking for me like crazy, I went back to the dorm. I was kind of funny, I thought, after unlocking the door (good thing Bane had left me with the key today) and sneaking in the bathroom, that I was only living in this room for two days, yet I’d have bled in it twice before I was done with it.

This was the mania of my anger. It was a sick pleasure, but knowing that very soon I’d be numb was in intoxicating idea. More than that, I liked it. I knew it was wrong, and unhealthy, which was why I couldn’t reconcile myself with it on a regular basis, but when I got like this, I liked it.

I was wearing short sleeves today, so all I had to do was remove the layers (and there were several) I was wearing over it to reveal my shiny, pink scar. It was still a little raw from my birthday, and pressing against it was more than a little painful, especially when the thing I was pressing with was a knife blade.

Fast and quick, I made the cut.
***
All I knew was that I was very sore. That was my first impression. After that, I began to notice other things, like the fact that the air smelled strange, tingling memories of something I didn’t want to remember, and that something was touching my hand and trembling.

The smell, though…it was a hospital. Either someone was about to come in and tell me that my mother was dead, or I was in hell. Given a choice between the two, I wasn’t entirely sure which one I would pick. Probably the former, because I had a feeling it would upset my aunt and uncle if I turned out to be dead.

“Come on, Deirdre,” someone was muttering nearby. “Please wake up.”

Alright, fine, I knew that I wasn’t dreaming about my mother again. It was just a happy alternative, given the other two possible realities. But everyone knows that I have a creative interpretation of reality resulting from wishful thinking. I mean, the other two choices were that I’d accidentally killed myself, or that I was alive…and in a hospital.

Not going to lie, I really, really didn’t want to be in a hospital. Hospital smells brought back bad memories. And, besides, it was going to be tricky hiding things from my aunt and uncle if I had gotten hurt badly enough to be admitted into a hospital.

Sighing, I opened my eyes to gauge the situation. Sitting on the edge of my bed, touching my hand, looking white as a ghost, was Bane. Why was I surprised? I really shouldn’t have been surprised. “You!” I exclaimed.

His hand had been covering his eyes. “Deirdre!” he exclaimed back, jumping up and swooping me into a tight hug. I let out a slight huff of pain. “Sorry,” he muttered, pulling back. “I’m just so glad you’re awake.”

Then, as I’d expected, he jumped away from me, releasing my hand and grabbing twin handfuls of his hair, causing it to puff up monumentally. “What the hell were you thinking?” he shouted, fluffing his hair again. “You scared the crap out of me, you idiot.” I decided to let the insults and the cursing slide, just this once, because I owed Bane that, at least. I wasn’t sure on the particulars of how I had gotten to the hospital, but I was pretty sure that there was some point in time where Bane would have been worried about me.

“Are you trying to kill yourself? Because at this point, I may just do it for you! First I couldn’t find you where we were supposed to meet, and then I came back to the room and found you passed out on the floor in a pool of your own blood. I thought you were dead, Deirdre.” He was pacing around the room, throwing his hands over his head periodically. I just sat there and watched, and took everything he had to dole out. “You were so pale, and there was blood everywhere, and it hadn’t stopped bleeding…” He turned to look at me with an expression that wasn’t angry, just tortured. “Why do you do this to yourself?” he whispered.

I turned my face away, and my hair moved stiffly with it. It took me a moment to realize that it was so hard because it was caked with blood. I must have bled a lot, more than ever before. “What else happened?” I asked, ignoring his question. He wanted the one response I couldn’t give.

Bane shrugged, sitting on the end of my bed. He took one look at my face and then, wincing, looked away. I wondered how bad I appeared to be. Because I felt more or less fine. I was a little freaked out by the IV in my arm, but I didn’t hurt too badly.

“I called an ambulance, and stopped the bleeding on your arm. Then I came here with you, and they gave you a transfusion.” He
grimaced. “It was touch and go for a moment there, because you needed blood, but they had to test your type.” He clenched his fists. “You’re such an idiot, Deirdre. Just think how I—your aunt and uncle would have felt if you’d died.”

Something seemed to occur to him. “Holy crap, I didn’t call your aunt and uncle.” He made as if to go, but I lunged down to grab him, causing the IV in my arm to tug painfully. I gritted my teeth against it, but didn’t let go of the back of Bane’s shirt.

“What’s the matter?” he fretted, guiding me back towards the pillows. I let go of his shirt—but ready to grab again at the first sign of his escaping—and gently prodded the IV until it was in a position that didn’t hurt quite so badly. “Careful, careful,” he cautioned.

I could feel the wild expression in my eyes. “Don’t tell them,” I begged. “Please. It won’t change what happened, and it will only hurt them.” Bane looked unconvinced and like I was crazier than he’d ever expected. “Please, Bane. There’s no reason for them to know. It won’t change what has happened, and it won’t change what will happen. I’m begging you.”

He looked torn. I decided to take another angle. “Come on, Bane. You don’t want to have to call them and tell them that I’m in the hospital. You need me to be as free as possible to work with you. You don’t want to get me in trouble. You need me.” It wasn’t an angle I believed completely, but I figured that it was worth a shot.

And, from the look in his eye, I knew that my shot had hit the bulls eye.

Sighing, he sat down. “Can you promise me that you won’t do it again?” From the way he phrased his question, it was clear that he didn’t expect me to give this particular promise. Somehow he knew that it wasn’t a mere hobby; it was a compulsion. It was something I couldn’t help.

I gazed down at my lap. “I can’t.” I wanted to add an, “I’m sorry,” but I couldn’t manage that, either.

Bane gave a humorless laugh. “I didn’t think so. Because you’re Deirdre Clements, the girl who refused help from everyone, even when they have your best interests at heart. Because you don’t need anyone, do you? You refuse to have a friend, even in me. And you don’t realize that you can’t deal with it yourself.”

I swallowed hard. Remember that realization that I cared what Bane thought? Yeah, that sucked a lot. I really didn’t want to have to deal with things like that. If I don’t care what other people think, then I can’t be hurt by them. Case in point: this afternoon.

He let out an irritated breath. “I’m sorry, Deirdre. I really am. I don’t want to fight with you. Can you…” He took a moment to steady himself. “Can you at least tell me why? I think you owe me that, at least.”

“You don’t want to know,” I promised him. “You really don’t want to know.” Unconsciously, I clenched my fist, which kind of hurt. I unclenched my fist.

“Fine,” Bane replied, shrugging. My mouth fell open, shocked that he was prepared to give up so easily. “I’ll just go call your Aunt Maureen. I’m sure she’ll be really interested in what happened.”

I glared at him. That wasn’t fair; that was extortion. Extortion was illegal. “You wouldn’t,” I threatened.

With a flippant toss of his head, Bane countered, “Oh, but m’dear, I would.” I glared at him. “Come on,” he said in his most reasonable tone. “I’m willing to not tell your aunt and uncle. I even accepted your not being able to promise me that you won’t do it again. But there’s no reason for you not to give me this, Deirdre. Cough it up.”

My hands started to shake. “Bane, please?” I pleaded. “Don’t make me do this.” My voice was strained, anguished.

His face crumpled with consternation. “Let me help you, Deirdre. Please stop shutting me out.” He picked up my hand, warming my cold fingers. I closed my eyes; I couldn’t take this anymore. “I can’t deal with not knowing. I want to be your friend. Please let me.”

I could feel my pulse thumping in my fingers, and as I concentrated on it, the sensation spread through my body. It was when I could feel the blood coursing through my brain that I gasped out, “Fine.”

Bane squeezed my hand and I opened my eyes. “Do you want me to ask questions? To help it come out?”

Looking not at him, but blankly past him, I shook my head. “It’s fine.” Bane nodded, and smoothed my hair out of my face.

My voice was shaky and weak as I started. “I don’t do it often; you need to understand that. Usually it’s only my birthday.” My voice broke and I cleared my throat. This was it—now or never, and it had to be now. I steeled myself and carried on with a stronger tone.

“When I was growing up, it was just me and my mom. I’d never had a dad around, I never even knew his first name. But I’m a Clements,
after him. My mom never talked about him. We were pretty poor. My mom was a waitress, so that she could be home for me at nights.

“For my ninth birthday, all I wanted was a party at Chuck E Cheez. It would be my present, just a few hours for me and my friend Lucia. We didn’t have to get any of the extras; just being able to play on the playground there would have been enough for me. My mom knew how badly I wanted it, so she saved up for the entire year, just so Lucia and I could have our day.

“We lived in Santa Fe, and went to a place a little bit outside the city because it was cheaper. We were on the freeway when it happened. I was in the backseat, talking to my mother. I bent over to laugh, and…” I trailed off, took a deep breath, and resumed. “It was because I bent over, they said, that I only got a cut on my arm. The door deflected me from the most of the shattered glass, and the front of the car crumpled in. I was trapped, but I was okay.”

A staggered breath that sounded almost like a sob leaked out of my chest. “My mom didn’t stand a chance. I woke up in a hospital. A woman named Mary told me what happened.” I closed my eyes.

“Deirdre,” Bane whispered. “I… I’m so sorry.”

Shaking my head, I continued. “They had me sit in the police station for hours. Nobody talked to me except this one woman.” I smiled ruefully. “I still don’t understand that; nobody would let her near me, but nobody would talk to me themselves.

“I pitched a fit when Uncle Mack showed up. Somehow that made it real, tangible. That meant that my mom was gone. And that was something I couldn’t deal with. The next day Uncle Mack brought me to Pennsylvania, before my mom’s funeral even. That was the last time I’d been in a plane, like that was the last time I’d been in the hospital.

“It wasn’t the next year when I started reopening the scar on my birthday. That year I just cried. I think I was thirteen when that started, and I realized that it meant I didn’t have to think about it. And then it just seemed like it was the right thing to do, because I’d gotten off so easily. Nothing will ever make up for the discrepancy between my mother and me, but I’m doing my best to try.”

I could feel Bane’s eyes on my face, even though I couldn’t see anything. Tears were leaking from my eyes, and it was impossible to stop them. I hadn’t cried in so long; it was painful, but felt good at the same time.

Suddenly I was being pulled roughly up, into Bane’s tight, hard grasp. He stroked my blood-caked hair, while I shook. After a few moments, I pushed him away; I hadn’t finished, and now that I’d started, I had to bring the story to an end.

“That’s not why I did it today,” I informed him, my voice dead. I couldn’t look at him, I just couldn’t.

Bane seemed unwilling to let me go, but contented himself with smoothing my hair, and my cheek, and patting my hands. I’d seen him treat Natalie similarly, when she’d stubbed a toe and was inconsolable. “Why did you do it today?” he asked, his voice nearly as dead as mine. It’s like all the emotion had been sucked from the room.

My hands started to shake again. I was an honest person; I didn’t lie. Ever. But this much honesty was something not even I had encountered before. “I was angry, because of what some girl had said.” In retrospect, it seemed trivial and unimportant the reason for this. “And I was looking for you, and I couldn’t find you.” Bane’s grip was tightening on my hand, and an almost frantic aura was coming off of him. “And then you were with some girl… and she kissed you…and I just, just snapped.”

Bane stood up abruptly, jerking his hand out of mine. “Me?” he asked, his voice sounding tortured, anguished. “You did this because of me?”

I didn’t lie. “Somewhat, Bane.” I wanted to say more, say that it wasn’t his fault, and that it was all me, but I didn’t know how to find the words.

“I have to go,” he muttered, and left the room before I could even reply. I stared after him, clenching the hand he had been holding, wincing
as the cold air hit places that had once been comforted by his warm fingers.

When a nurse came in a few minutes later, I was still staring after Bane’s retreating back, though he was long gone. “You feeling better, baby doll?” she asked me with her deep pack-a-day voice. “You gave that boyfriend of yours a mighty scare there, for a bit.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” I mumbled. Now, I probably wasn’t even tolerated. As he’d left, Bane had looked like he’d wanted to kill someone, that someone probably being me.

The nurse stopped what she was doing to stare at me. “Not your boyfriend, baby doll?” she echoed, as if this were so inconceivable. “Well he likes you, surely, baby, with him holdin’ your hand and alla that.”

“Everyone seems to say that,” I corrected her, “put I promise you that he doesn’t.”

The nurse patted my bloody head. “You keep telling yourself that, baby doll.” Inexplicably, I felt my eyes fill up with tears—that was something Bane always said, minus the “baby doll.” Tactfully, the nurse ignored my snuffling, and bustled around the room, fidgeting with my IV and everything.

She was still there when Bane came back, face extremely red. He looked strange, shaky, like he was the one recovering from some ailment. “Sorry,” he stuttered, shaking his head, as if he was trying to clear his head. “I just had to-to go to the bathroom.”

I nodded at him, eyes full of tears. Immediately, he resumed his sentinel post on the edge of my bed, taking my hand in his again. While Bane wasn’t looking, the nurse winked at me. I wrinkled my nose. “How is she?” he asked the nurse fretfully.

“Just ‘bout ready to leave, baby doll,” she replied in that gruff voice. Apparently her sentiment of choice wasn’t gender specific. “Just you take her home and put her in the shower and make good sure that she doesn’t get them sutures all wet.” I glanced at my arm, and imagined sutures under all the gauze. Disgusting. “An’ you just need somebody to sign her out.”

“I’m eighteen,” Bane and I said simultaneously. Then, again in unison, we winced. We sounded like Cooper and Samantha. The nurse chuckled, informed us that she would send someone in with the papers, winked at me, and left. I wasn’t sure I liked what she was insinuating.
I stood up, retrieved my clothes (I was pretty sure that the only thing worse than hospital smells were hospital gowns, and the fact that you had need to be in the hospital), and received a tight hug from Bane. “Seriously,” he whispered roughly, “punch me in the face or something next time, okay? I’ve been punched before, and it doesn’t land me in the hospital.” He chuckled weakly and I could feel it throughout my whole body—weird experience. “If I remember correctly, I’ve actually been punched by you in the face before.”

He released me and I stepped back as quickly as I could. “Okay,” I assured him, nodding vehemently to offset another hug. “I’ll punch you.”
Bane laughed for real this time, and grabbed my hand. “Let’s get out of here before we miss our plane,” he suggested. I groaned. That was exactly what I wanted next: planes.
***
“Why are you so afraid of flying?” Bane asked as I squeezed the life out of his hand that evening. Maybe it was because I was still a little woozy from blood loss, but my fear seemed more abstract this time. I’m not saying that I wasn’t still scared, because I was. It was just a less focused sort of fear, like when I used to be afraid of the dark.

“We could crash,” I replied, concentrating on breathing evenly through my nose.

Bane snorted. “You’re way more likely to crash in a car than in a plane,” he scoffed. Then he caught himself and flicked a glance at my face. “Sorry,” he muttered.

“S’okay,” I mumbled.

He played with my fingers. “That’s not a good reason, though. Give me another.”

It was difficult to think and concentrate on breathing at the same time. “There could be a serial killer on here, and if he started shooting people,
we’d have no place to go.”

Again, he snorted. Really, it was so lovely to have my fears such mocked. “That only happens on TV.”

“There could be something on board.” Okay, so now I was grasping at straws.

“Like what?”

I said the first thing that popped into my head. “Badgers.”

Bane laughed outright at this, and I pursed my lips sheepishly. “Badgers on a plane,” he intoned in a mock horrified whisper. “AAH! BADGERS ON A PLANE!” Both I and the elderly woman from across the aisle glared at him for shouting.

“You’re obnoxious,” I told him sternly.

He laughed again. It could be worse. He could have a really awful laugh. “Fine, I’m obnoxious. But at least give me a good reason for admitting it.”

I furrowed my brow, wracking my brain. I was terrified, so surely there was a legitimate reason for it. “It makes my ears hurt,” I came up with eventually.

Another thing that was becoming irritatingly regular—Bane looked at me like I was stupid. “Yawn,” he ordered.

“What?”


“Just yawn. It’ll make your ears feel better.” That was the silliest thing I’d ever heard of, but I yawned and…oh. That was weird.

“Oh.”

Bane laughed again. He laughs a lot. “That’s what I thought,” he teased, tapping my nose. Then, he settled back into his seat, and closed his eyes, listening to an iPod (aren’t you proud of me for knowing what it’s called? I even knew the brand). The little ear plug thingies looked strange on Bane—I’d seen them aplenty on other people, but not so much on him.

Out of default, and need for something to focus on, I watched Bane as he first moved his lips along to the music, and then fell still. His breathing evened, and I knew he was asleep. It was an odd sort of peace, knowing that he was asleep next to me, vulnerable and comforting, holding my hand quietly. It sent a feeling through me that was quiet and impossible to describe. But I liked it; I definitely liked it.

A smile played about my lips as I observed this boy, the boy with whom I’d spent more time in the past three months than I had with anyone else in the past three years, who I’d never really looked at before. I mean, yeah, I saw him every day, for hours on end, but I’d never really looked.

And so maybe I didn’t find him the “gorgeous” that brunette had proclaimed him on that first day which had led to so many happenings in the past three months. But, under careful scrutiny, there were several features that were, well, charming. For one, there was the way the front of his hair tended to grow faster than the rest, and how you could always tell when he’d just had a haircut, because it was the only time when it didn’t jut out over one of his surprisingly blue eyes. That lock of hair was sort of endearing.

Sometimes his mouth twitched a little, too, like he was about to smile, but couldn’t quite force it out, because he was asleep. His too large nose almost balanced out his narrow face. There were too many imperfections for “gorgeous,” but I figured that something perfect would be a bit terrifying. As it was, he was…nice.

I leaned my head against the side of the seat. Our faces were kind of close now, but it only made for easier observation. From this range, I could see individual sable eyelashes, and the slight textured pattern of his olive-toned skin. I could see every imperfection, and somehow that only made him seem more perfect, like every flaw made him more real, more of a person, more Bane. I traced my eyes over the outline of his face, not letting any detail escape my notice.

This was, of course, for purely observational purposes. It was merely educational.

Moving my eyes back up the way I’d come, I received the shock of my life when, instead of continuing over uninterrupted tan, the color scheme was abruptly cut off by two spots of blue. “Hello, Deirdre, “ Bane said pleasantly, his voice sounding too loud after the relative silence (it had been quiet, aside from the woman turning the pages of her book across the aisle, and the muted buss of the death machine I was flying in) of the past hour or so. “What are you looking at?”

Naturally, a smile came to my lips, a genuine, unhindered smile. “You,” I informed him, in a very Last of the Mohicans style.

Oddly, this seemed to please. “Enjoying the view?” he teased, with a note of a serious question underneath. All too suddenly, I was aware of precisely how close our faces were. The curse of my family—I turned bright red. And when I say I turned red, I mean that I turned not pink, as some people might, or even a little grey, but a very unattractive shade of umber.

“No,” I muttered crossly, not cross at Bane, but rather at myself for being so dense, and for getting caught, and for doing it in the first place. I’m no idiot; I knew my actions could be, now and again, taken as a sign of infatuation. This was one of those “now and again” times.

“Whatever you say, brat,” Bane laughed, tugging on the end of my hair. Childishly, I turned my face away. He laughed softly again. “Go to sleep, brat,” he whispered, softly and near my ear. I shrugged him away, and he obliged, taking his hand with him. Now I regretted making true on my nickname. My hand felt awkward without something to fill it, and perhaps I was imagining it, but my arm started to hurt more when Bane let go.

But, sometime in the minutes right before he fell asleep, he took my hand again, and I felt on my face the tugging starts of a smile.
***
The melancholy began to set in when we landed. I wasn’t sure what started it—of course, the pain meds from the hospital were starting to wear off, and my arm throbbed with my heartbeat, and no matter how many times I yawned, my ears wouldn’t stop aching—but it was more than my physical discomfort. It was a feeling. No, not a feeling like the one earlier that day—not a compulsion burning in the pit of my stomach. This was like there was a hole in my heart, yearning to be filled.

Bane was too tired to force much conversation on the way home, so I was acutely aware of my mounting misery, which made absolutely no sense at all. I should have been, if anything, jubilant. This stupid conference was over, which meant that I could have time to myself again. I could sleep for more than seven hours a night. I could relax for hours on end. I could study, and play the piano, and generally go back to the way things were before the commencement of this madness.

Yet the pensiveness of it all enveloped me tightly, like a blanked tied on with a rope, refusing to let go.

The low moment of the ride was, without a doubt, when Bane hesitated in my driveway. As I glided my hands towards my seatbelt, he laid his head back against the seat. For a split second I froze, watching him. Bane always walked me up to the door, whether I wanted him to or not.
But then he moved again, and I felt relieved, though this was not enough to offset my glum mood. He followed me to the stoop, several steps behind for once. Typically, Bane was the leader, in more ways than one. I dug through my bag for my key. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said. But it was more like a vow. Like there was someone he needed to convince.

I glanced up at him, not deeming this of any importance. “Of course,” I muttered, still key searching. I just wanted to get inside, take a couple of ibuprofen, and go to bed so I wasn’t completely exhausted and jet-lagged for school tomorrow.

Bane muttered something that sounded like, “One day away,” but I wasn’t sure. That wasn’t a statement that made a whole lot of sense.

“What’s that?” I asked, in case it was a comment that required a reply.

He shrugged. “Nothing.” I inserted my key into the door, and pushed it open. I turned around to say goodnight to Bane, but he was already gone, opening the door of his car. Sure, I could have called out a goodnight, but I’m not much of a shouter. So I shrugged it off, trying to pretend that I wasn’t (for some odd reason) a little bit hurt by his snub.

Inside, Aunt Maureen was waiting up for me. In retrospect, this wasn’t so strange, seeing as it was only about nine-thirty, but at the time, it seemed impossibly nice.

“Hello, sweetheart.” It seemed odd to hear the sentiment that had been gracing Bane’s lips this past weekend come from my aunt. “Come in here and tell me about your trip.” She laid aside the magazine she’d been reading and I obeyed thoughtlessly. I was starting to feel a little depressed.

I perched a little awkwardly on the edge of the couch across from Aunt Mo’s chair. I wasn’t a frequent patron of the living room, and it made me feel kind of strange to be in here. With any luck, this conversation would be short. I was pretty tired.

“Did you enjoy Chicago? Did you and Bane have fun?” I rather thought that Aunt Mo was a little over enthusiastic when it came to Bane. I think she worried, sometimes, that she had failed with me, and my dearth of friends was somehow, inexplicably, her fault. I wished I could have found a way to tell her that every problem I had was in my head, and my head was a place she hadn’t touched.

I decided to answer only the first question. “Yes.” The matter of fun was subject to debate.

This was greeted was general happiness, and I was glad for the omission on my part. “That’s so wonderful! Did you meet any new and interesting people?”

“Not really. I spent a lot of time with Bane.” For some strange, strange reason, the depths of my momentary depression sank a few feet.

Thinking about this weekend was bringing forth a strange sort of wistfulness, like a masochist brand of nostalgia.

I expected Aunt Maureen to clap her hands like a child presented with candy at any moment. “Oh, that Bane Morrison is such a nice boy, and such a good friend to you, Deirdre, dear…”

It was at this point that the tears began to leak from my eyes. I didn’t know where they came from, and I didn’t know how to stop them, but they were there, for reasons unfathomable to me.

Alarmed, Aunt Mo jumped up and waved her hands around frantically, like she wanted to reach out and comfort me, but didn’t think that this would help. “Whatever is the matter?” she cried. A wide-eyed horror flicked across her face. “Oh, God. That nice boy didn’t… do something not nice, did he, Deirdre? You can tell me if he did, and your uncle and I will make sure he pays for it, I promise.”

I nearly had to laugh at the implications, at the idea of Bane ever doing something like what Aunt Mo was implying. “No, no, nothing like that,” I chuckled weakly, managing a watery smile that was meant to be reassuring.

Clearly relieved, Aunt Mo sank back down onto her chair. “Thank God. What’s wrong then?”

For a moment, I had to think about this. It was hard to describe melancholy/longing/nostalgia/wistfulness into a concrete reason. Eventually I came up with, “It just seems like something really good is coming to an end.”

Smiling knowingly, Aunt Mo nodded. “Uh huh. And could that something good perhaps be related to the fact that you’ve been spending all your time with Bane?”

I shrugged noncommittally. That was it, almost precisely.

A girlish smile flitted across Aunt Maureen’s face, and my stomach did a weird flip, knowing what she had in mind. “No,” I cautioned.

Despite my warning, she plunged ahead, heedless of my fragile mental state. “Oh, you like him, Deirdre! That’s so lovely! He’s such a nice boy, and you two are so sweet together. And he’s been such a good friend to you, Deirdre; he would make such a nice boyfriend.”

I winced on the word “boyfriend.” Of all the things that Bane could possibly one day be to me, I didn’t think that “boyfriend” was one of them. Friend? Maybe. Editor? Absolutely. Boyfriend? So severely unlikely it barely withstood comprehension.

“No, Aunt Mo,” I admonished gently, feeling some weird twisting feeling in my stomach—a side effect of my melancholy, I supposed—as I said this.

She smiled knowingly, as if I were too dense to see this blatantly obvious truth on my own. “Then why are you sad? And don’t lie to me—it’s clearly about Bane. I can read it on your face. Think carefully before you answer, sweetheart, because I know you well enough to tell when you’re not giving the whole truth.”

Per Aunt Maureen’s request, I thought carefully. “It’s just that it seems like I’ll…miss him, I guess, now that I won’t be seeing him as much.” I wrinkled my nose, realizing how maladroit and lovesick I must have sounded. “But that’s silly, of course, because I’ll still see him at school and for regular magazine happenings. It’s just not the same as our hectic conference preparations.” I snorted slightly under my breath. “I’m being stupid.”

Aunt Mo gave me a slightly sad look. “Did you ever stop to think, just for one minute, that you’d fallen for him, Deirdre? Did you ever consider that?”

The question was so odd, and yet so oddly personal that I had to blush. A creeping grin spread across Aunt Mo’s face. “I don’t like Bane like that,” I reiterated, a little too loudly, perhaps. “We’re friends, I suppose, but not more than that. Just friends.” I would allow friends.

“Methinks you protest too much.”

I scowled. “It’s true, Aunt Maureen. Friends,” I emphasized.

Her elation had returned full force. “You keep telling yourself that, Deirdre. You just keep telling yourself that.” I have one question. And please, anyone who knows, feel free to answer. The question is this: Why does everyone say that to me?

I stood up, nodding as way of excusing myself. Aunt Mo fluttered a hand after me, still excited despite my denial.

Tottering off to bed, I realized that there were more things in my head for me to puzzle over than I would have liked to be there.
***
The rigidity of my posture as I sat in Poetry would have done a Buckingham Palace soldier proud. I’d long since switched back to my seat in front of Bane—for practicality purposes only—and today, for some bizarre reason, this made me extremely apprehensive. Maybe I subconsciously suspected that I was about to be roped into some ridiculously time consuming project. Maybe I suspected that because he does that to me all the time.

You know, just throwing that one out there.

However, as the period dragged on, and Bane made no move to contact me, I grew antsy. There was something impossibly awkward about Bane not talking to me. He was always talking to me, and I do mean always. His continual chatter was, apparently, something that a body could get used to.

Also it was that, you know, my general fear and disappointment from the night before was all turning out to be, more or less, true, and that upset me. But it only upset me a little, mind you.

Needless to say, I was more or less pleased when I felt something tugging on the back of my head. We’d long since finished our class assignment (well, at least I had), and were free for the rest of the period. I turned around to see what in God’s name he was doing to my hair, but Bane pushed my face forward with one large hand.

“Shh,” he ordered, concentrating intensely on whatever was happening on my head. “I’m trying to figure out how to do one of those things.” The way my hair was swishing along the back of my neck—or was that Bane’s fingers—made me shiver.

“What thing?” I whispered, slightly alarmed. I honestly didn’t want a dread lock ending up attached to my head.

Again, he commanded, “Shh.” Apparently making “one of those things” took utmost concentration. I began to fear for the fate of my scalp. “One of those twisty things.”

I thought about this for several good seconds. “You mean a braid?” I suggested, after deducting that this was the only thing he could mean.
One would think that someone with a vocabulary as good as Bane’s would know the word “braid.”

“Yep!” he exclaimed, like a gleeful child. “Look at it, brat!”

It fell apart before I even grabbed it. “I think you need to work on that, slugger,” I teased, running my fingers through my hair to get rid of the
eerie feeling that there was still something stuck in there. Bane looked impossibly disappointed. I turned around in my seat to face him.

The instant he gave me a mockingly sad look, I knew I was in trouble. “Come over my house this afternoon so I can practice, brat?” he pleaded in a piercing falsetto. I scrunched my nose doubtfully. “Please?” he asked. “Nat and Lindsay want to see you,” he threw in, for effect, I assumed.

I heaved a dramatic sigh, also for effect. “If you really must, Bane,” I muttered, as if I were being martyred. Secretly, I was supremely pleased.
***
I hesitated uncomfortably in Bane’s front hallway. It was a strange thing, for me, to be here and not have a frantic deadline to meet, and a job that had to be done. I knew, a bit belatedly, that I shouldn’t have accepted, even though it had soothed my irrational fears that all contact between Bane and myself was about to be cut off.

Not realizing that he’d left me idling behind—Bane, it seemed, was used to my coming into his kitchen and getting right to work—Bane continued on through the house, ignorant to my discomfort. Well, admittedly it was strange, for me to feel like a stranger in a place that I’d practically lived in this past month. It took him roughly thirty seconds to realize that I wasn’t behind him.

He stuck his head through the door of the kitchen back into the hallway. “What are you doing?” he asked me, narrowing his eyes with mock suspicion. “I like my house. Please don’t let it get destroyed in whatever diabolical happening you’re planning.” He was teasing, lighthearted, trying to alleviate whatever stress I was currently under.

Oddly, it was more or less successful. I gave him a terse smile, which was greeted by a wide grin. After beckoning with both a flap of the hand and jerk of the head, I followed Bane into the kitchen, where he proceeded to make us both peanut butter sandwiches.

“So,” Bane mumbled, washing down his sandwich with a swig of milk. “I’ve come to the conclusion—an afternoon of careful contemplating, you know, brat—that making braided things are for girls.”

“Did you?” I asked conversationally.

Brandishing his sandwich, Bane nodded. “Yes. However, I didn’t want to cancel on you, because I knew that this would crush your fledgling dreams.” His eyes flashed with unarticulated humor.

I raised an eyebrow. “Of course.”

Openly, he grinned. “So, anyway, I was wondering what you wanted to do instead. We could watch a movie or something.” He shrugged. “Though, Nat and Linnie would probably want to watch with us, so I warn you that it might turn out to be Barbie and the Nutcracker.”

My smile was more of a momentary twitch of the lips. “Sounds good to me.” I really liked Natalie and Lindsay. They were sweet little girls. I couldn’t really remember, but I liked to think that I’d been like them when I was little. It probably wasn’t true, but a girl can dream, can’t she?
Bane clapped his hands together (he’d already finished the peanut butter sandwich) like a child with a quarter for the gumball
machine. “Perfect. I’ll go tell the girls and see if they want to watch.”

Still picking at my sandwich, I nodded once. I was being particularly chatty today, and it didn’t seem like a good thing. People very rarely complain when one is too quiet—it’s talking too much that offends most people. Bane was, of course, a marked exception to this rule, the little freakish anomaly that he was.

We made our way into the living room. I didn’t spend much time in this part of the Morrison household—Bane and I were kitchen friends. I’d been in Natalie’s room and Lindsay’s room, and the living room before, but only once for each. And this, considering the amount of time I spent here, was somewhat remarkable.

Natalie and Lindsay squished together on one end of the small couch, leaving an impossibly small space for Bane and I to wedge ourselves into. I stared at it balefully. “I’ll sit on the floor?” I offered, my uncertainty making my voice rise into a question.

With a wicked grin—whatever was that for?—Bane shook his head. “I wouldn’t dream of making you sit on the floor, brat.” He patted the scant space between himself and Lindsay. “Come sit.”

Unwillingly, my face contorted into a skeptical wince. Yet, obediently, I squeezed into a space that was just a few inches too small for my relatively thin frame. Bane’s proximity was unnerving, as was Lindsay’s—only not so much for her.

Maybe it was something about Bane being six inches taller than me, and infinitely stronger, and completely unable to respect my personal space. Sometimes, I admit, I did not mind (one hyperventilating on a plane experience comes immediately to my thoughts), but mostly I did. Unfortunately, Bane’s refusal to keep some space wasn’t exclusive to times when I didn’t mind.

I pulled little Lindsay onto my lap, and moved over a little. Bane moved as well. “What?” he asked when I shot him what was meant to be a menacing glare. “I was squished against the side.” I moved over again, and he didn’t pursue the issue.

Natalie was looking at us strangely, with the observant gaze of a child. Her eyes were narrowed, making me wonder if perhaps Natalie understood what was going on even better than I did. “We’re watching Barbie of Swan Lake,” she informed me matter of factly. Okay, so maybe she didn’t understand it, then.

After popping up to start the film, Natalie snuggled into my side. An oddly animated girl started dancing across the screen. I watched mindlessly, concentrating more on the synchronized pattern of my, Natalie, and Lindsay’s breathing. It was oddly calming.

Just after the oddly animated girl, who was named Odette (it was a strange name, but a pretty one, that undoubtedly didn’t mean “sorrow”), was turned into a swan, Natalie sat up and asked, “If you married Bane, would you be our sister?”

I felt my face flash red, and turned to Bane, who was also, yet uncharacteristically, blushing. “We just had to explain to her that because our aunt got married her husband is now our uncle,” he offered, in return for the mortifying comment of his small sister. “Sorry.”

“Would you be?” Natalie demanded, while the swan girl danced in the background. “I want you to be my sister, like Lindsay, because then we could have sleepovers and you could bake cookies with me, and play with Bane, too.” Despite her innocent intentions, her comment sounded dirty. Come on, even I can recognize that.

It was almost worth it to hear Bane stutter. “We’re not—Deirdre and I aren’t—we’re not getting married, Nat. Sorry.” His face was a lovely shade of scarlet. Had I been not so embarrassed, I probably would have laughed at it a little, to be perfectly honest.

Natalie pouted a little. “Okay,” she muttered despondently, crossing her arms and settling back against the couch. We watched for a few moments more, during which Bane and I exchanged a few quasi ashamed looks. Soon, though, she popped back up. “But if you did, would Deirdre be my sister, Bane?” she piped up all too innocently.

He groaned. “Yes, Nat.”

I didn’t dare look at her, but could hear the smile in Natalie’s voice. “Good.” Sometimes I’m absurdly glad that I don’t have younger siblings. I mean, I’ve got cousins, but that’s a different story altogether. They come from a different gene pool.

I leaned my head against the back of the couch, sort of floundering under the weight of the two girls. As if it were planned, Bane and I shifted at the same moment, and I ended up with my head on his shoulder…or somewhere between his shoulder and his chest. For a moment I tensed, as did Bane, but again as if planned, we seemed to decide this was okay.

So it became a chain of leaning—I on Bane; Lindsay on me; Natalie on Lindsay. Frankly, I wondered how he withstood the weight of it all. Odette was about to be saved by the prince (or something—I wasn’t really paying attention) when a click of a lock and a “Hello everyone! I’m home!” alerted us to the newfound presence of Mrs. Morrison.

Bane and I jumped apart as if our lives depended on it. Maybe this made things look as if our, erm, cuddling was something more than completely and utterly platonic, but it was an instinct. Physical contact was bad enough, but having someone witness that physical contact was another matter altogether—a much worse matter.

Lindsay and Natalie leaped up to go greet their mother, and for the first time I noticed that Lindsay had an awkward, ungainly run. I felt a pang in my stomach for the beautiful little girl who had so many problems. Hurriedly, I squished the feeling. It was a lot like love, and I didn’t want
to love anyone.

By the time Mrs. Morrison entered the room, where Bane and I were staring at the television with at least six inches between us (in retrospect, this was probably ridiculously obvious, given that we were watching Barbie).

“Hello Deirdre,” she greeted me, no hint of suspicion coloring her tone. Wow, this woman was good. “I didn’t know you’d be here today.” I heard the patter of two sets of feet run up the stairs. Apparently Lindsay and Natalie had grown tired of the movie. “Bane said you didn’t have any work to do today.”

Really, there wasn’t much of a response to this, so I just gave a polite nod. Mrs. Morrison was truly an excellent actress or extremely dense.

The awkward electricity in the air was clearly manifested.

She turned to Bane. “And hello to you too, Bane.” She raised an eyebrow disapprovingly. “Really, don’t come say hello to your old mother. She’ll just wither away with neglect. No matter.” Despite her heavily sarcastic words, she was teasing, with affection.

Bane stood to peck his mother on the cheek. “We wouldn’t want you to wither, Mom,” he informed her, face pointedly serious. “So I suppose
I’ll greet you.” She laughed and swatted him on the head as he sat again.

I averted my eyes. It was awkward, and slightly painful, to watch this bout of bonding between mother and son.

“So, Deirdre,” Mrs. Morrison interrupted my thinking gently, drawing my gaze again. “You know that this weekend is the teachers’ conventions, correct?”

Who didn’t know that this weekend was the teachers’ conventions? It was part of November’s magic. We hardly had any school the whole month. “Yes, ma’am,” I answered politely. I sounded unnecessarily shy.

Mrs. Morrison tucked one of her brunette curls—the same color as her son’s straight locks; it was easy to see the family resemblance—behind her ear. “You and your family aren’t going away, are you?”

“No, ma’am,” I replied towards her dressy work shoes. I imagined that it would be strange to see Mrs. Morrison dressed in anything but skirt suits and shiny patent leather shoes—in my mind, she was a businesswoman through and through.

“You really don’t have to call me ma’am,” she reminded. Mrs. Morrison had been trying—to no avail—to cure me of this particular formality. “And I was wondering if, perhaps, you could babysit the girls.”

“Aw, Mom,” Bane interjected. “I’m sure Deirdre has something better to do than hang around here.” I thought it was rather nice of him to intervene on my behalf, though quite unnecessary. I certainly didn’t have any other plans.

Mrs. Morrison batted a hand at him. “Oh, hush,” she reprimanded her son. “Unless you want to be stuck in the house all weekend, you’ll mind your own business.” She turned to me. “I know it’s a big job, but I’ll pay you for every hour.” I waited for what the actual job would entail—from the exchange, it was clear that this wasn’t your typical babysitting job. “The thing is, I have a convention in Los Angeles from Friday night to Sunday afternoon, and I don’t know what to do with the girls.” She sounded genuinely distraught. “And I don’t know anyone else around here, really, to have babysit.”

Under his breath, Bane muttered, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it.”

“Shut up, Bane,” his mother scolded. “Of course, you’d have to clear it with your aunt and uncle, Deirdre. I mean, I’d leave them with Bane, but he has some cross country final…” She trailed off, looking for the word from Bane.

“It’s the county meet, Mom,” he corrected.

“Right, the county meet, and I don’t know what to do with the girls while he’s there.” Her eyes were imploring. “And Nat and Linnie really do love you, Deirdre,” she tacked on the end, for further persuading technique.

I bit my lower lip. On one hand, did I really want to give up my whole weekend? On the other hand, what else did I have to do? This house had a lovely piano. “You’d want me to sleep here, too?” I asked. That seemed to make sense, but was also sort of terrifying, in a sense.
Apprehensively, Mrs. Morrison nodded. “We have a guest room, so you wouldn’t have to stay on the couch, or anything.” Mimicking me, she bit her lip. “If you or your aunt and uncle aren’t okay with that, you could do just during the day, but I thought it would be easier…” She sighed. “I realize it’s a lot to ask, but I really don’t know what else to do.”

“Don’t do it,” Bane muttered from the corner of his mouth. “I’m telling you, it’s a bad idea.”

I gave Mrs. Morrison a terse smile. “I’ll do it,” I promised. Bane groaned emphatically. “I have to ask my aunt and uncle first, but I’m sure they’ll be fine with it.” Then I closed my lips. I didn’t talk that much around other people—just around Bane.

The relief in her face was evident. “Oh, Deirdre, thank you so much!” she enthused. “The girls will be thrilled, and—oh, you’re such a lifesaver!” She swept down to peck a kiss on my forehead—causing me to tense up momentarily—and then swept out of the room.
The moment she was gone, Bane rolled his eyes at me. “You’re an idiot, you know that, brat?” he asked me, clearly not really angry. “You just gave up your whole weekend to watch my little sisters. Not that I particularly mind—I’d have to do it if you didn’t, and I wouldn’t get paid—but I’m just telling you that you basically sold your soul for a weekend.”

I sneered at him. That was really all the response necessary.

He stuck out his tongue in return. “You’re one crazy girl, Deirdre. But that’s what makes you so interesting.” I stuck out my tongue as well. You just have to love fourth graders’ insults.
--------------------------
comments?

PHEW. That took forever.

Anyway, a new update'll be along soon.

Love,
Gracey :elmo:
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#7 :)paige(:

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 12:00 PM

hey!
I LOVE it!
update soon please!

Paige
xxxx
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#8 Bella Catarina

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 03:00 PM

Thread Two!

*dances around*

A shiny new thread!


:D

:heartbeat:


Kat

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#9 hockeyfan

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 03:24 PM

*wide eyed and a little spacy*

Ohh, look. A pretty new thread...

Update soon Gracey!

sarah :D
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#10 princesskate14

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 06:31 PM

New thread. =]

New update?

I think I commented on the last one already, Gracey, but it was fabulous. <33 Absolutely genius.


Much love,
Katie
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#11 Cabot~Fan

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 07:07 PM

:D

I love new threads. They're so clean. *deep breath* Mmmm. Smells good. :P

Update soon?

~Chelsie~ ♥

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#12 lily_li14

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Posted 10 March 2008 - 10:14 PM

Alright, so, I haven't exactly finished (I'm only up to part five; curse my need for sleep - I've already blown off a good portion of my homework for this), but I've seen enough to give my thesis:

Damn, girl!

*gets down and bows at your feet*

It's been a while since I've read another story on here (my own sketchy update schedule makes me wary of others), but man, you need to get this freakin' published so I can read it in bed without further damaging my eyes. I stare at screens so much during the day that you'd think my eyes would start bleeding or something.

(Also apparently having your laptop open in bed at midnight does not constitute as "bedtime reading.")
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#13 noleey

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Posted 11 March 2008 - 12:30 AM

YAY! Thread two :D
Update soon!

Nicole
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#14 HoplessRomantic02

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Posted 11 March 2008 - 10:37 AM

Mmmmm smell it!
Smells so good and fresh!

-MiMi
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#15 Ami

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Posted 11 March 2008 - 01:31 PM

Hey!

Congrats for Thread Two, Gracey! =]

Can't wait to read the next update!

:heartbeat:

Luuuurve, Ami . . X

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#16 lily_li14

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Posted 11 March 2008 - 03:22 PM

Finally finished...

And now I need more! My god, this is so good. Update soon!
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#17 Ari-san

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Posted 11 March 2008 - 06:51 PM

*sniff* *sniff*

Do I smell an update coming? :lol:

Lots of :heartbeat:!

ali :D
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#18 peanut_butter

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Posted 11 March 2008 - 06:54 PM

Alright, so, I haven't exactly finished (I'm only up to part five; curse my need for sleep - I've already blown off a good portion of my homework for this), but I've seen enough to give my thesis:

Damn, girl!

*gets down and bows at your feet*

It's been a while since I've read another story on here (my own sketchy update schedule makes me wary of others), but man, you need to get this freakin' published so I can read it in bed without further damaging my eyes. I stare at screens so much during the day that you'd think my eyes would start bleeding or something.

(Also apparently having your laptop open in bed at midnight does not constitute as "bedtime reading.")

Wow, Lily, thanks!
:feels good, because she adores Lily's story:

Well, I'm glad you liked it, because when I was posting those five parts, it was like an hour and a half after I should have been sleeping, and my eyes felt like they were about to pop out.

Nice to know it's appreciated.
:)

Update soon. Gracey needs to write.

Love,
Gracey :elmo:
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#19 SoccerRules

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Posted 11 March 2008 - 07:24 PM

OH! A new thread, well not exactly new but you had to open another one since the older one didn't fit.
That must be exciting!

Cerra ♥
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#20 Lexigurl101

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Posted 12 March 2008 - 08:00 PM

PLEASSSEEEEE UPDATE!!!!!!!!!!!!
(I'm dieing over here!)
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#21 strawberry.kiss.xxo

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Posted 13 March 2008 - 07:59 AM

why I have not found this earlier is unbeknownst to me.

but I'm glad I found it now

Gracey you are simply brilliant. brilliant.


Do update soon.


~Chanel :heartbeat:
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#22 :)paige(:

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Posted 15 March 2008 - 06:10 PM

Im waiting, MUHAHA
lol please update soon!

Paige
xxxx
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#23 Ami

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Posted 16 March 2008 - 07:27 AM

Graceykins!

How are you?

:)

Just curious, but, when can we expect an update?

Sorry if I'm a nag :(

:heartbeat:

Luuuurve, Ami . . X

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#24 peanut_butter

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Posted 16 March 2008 - 01:45 PM

No, I totally deserve to be nagged. I'll definitely be updating this week, before I go on vacation. Promise.

Love,
Gracey :elmo:
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#25 Ami

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Posted 16 March 2008 - 04:07 PM

Ooh, you're going on vacation? Where are you going?

I cant wait for the update!

:heartbeat:

Luuuurve, Ami . . X

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#26 Mediator17

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Posted 16 March 2008 - 08:32 PM

*plops in shiny new thread*

*refuses to move until Gracey updates*

*whistles*


:heartbeat: :heartbeat: :heartbeat:

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#27 peanut_butter

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Posted 19 March 2008 - 06:24 PM

Yes, I'm here; yes, I realize how severely I suck.
Thanks, Mel.
Ami--Florida.
------------------------------
It seemed that all my babysitting topics were to be brought up while cooking. I ran a spoon around the inside of a pan of stir fry, only stirring halfheartedly. “Aunt Mo?” I asked timidly. You’d think that, after nine years, I’d be more or less comfortable talking to my own aunt, but I definitely wasn’t.

“Yes, Deirdre?” she asked, sounding surprised. It was something of a consolation that she wasn’t used to hearing me talk, either.

“I was,” I paused. Where some people may say “er” or “um” I pause. It saves words that way. “Mrs. Morrison asked me to babysit again this weekend.”

“Sure,” Aunt Maureen replied promptly. Mrs. Morrison and Aunt Mo had become great friends. And Mrs. Morrison loved Aunt Mo’s cupcakes.
They often had lunch together, under the guise of business deals. “When this weekend?”

I winced. “All weekend.” It sounded a bit wrong, put such a way. I wasn’t entirely sure why; it just did.

Turning from where she’d been shelling peas on the counter, Aunt Mo turned to look at me with questioning eyes. “Really?” she asked, sounding slightly suspicious. I was sure she was, at this moment, analyzing in her mind the fact that this was me, and not Katy, and that was why this might actually be what I said it was.

I nodded once.

She nodded in return, several times. “I’m going to call Eileen, if you don’t mind,” she muttered, still nodding. Eileen was Mrs. Morrison. I shrugged once.

Looking at me as if I were about to make a bolt for it, Aunt Maureen reached for the phone and dialed. I wasn’t offended by her wanting to confirm this with Mrs. Morrison. I mean, she was a good parent, and good parents checked things like this. Just because she wasn’t my parent didn’t mean that she threw all her mothering techniques out the window. I knew my aunt trusted me implicitly.

“Hello, Eileen?” she said into the phone, still looking at me. “Yes, it’s Maureen. That’s what I’m calling about actually. Just wanted to check in on the particulars of this, not that I don’t trust Deirdre. No, I know, she’s a good girl, easiest of my four, actually. Yes… alright. Will your son be there? Part of the time, eh?” She gave me a raised eyebrow, but it didn’t doubt my intentions. On the contrary; Aunt Mo raised an encouraging eyebrow. I live amongst madness. “Well, it’s fine by me, then. Great talking to you, Eileen. I’ll see you next week, right? Oh, yes. Goodbye, Eileen.”

I smirked ever so slightly. It was nice to be doubted, so long as I was proven correct.
----------------
comments?

:winces:

Sorry the next one happened to be so short. Maybe I'll update while I'm away...?

Depends on internet time.

Love,
Gracey :elmo:
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#28 Bella Catarina

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Posted 19 March 2008 - 06:36 PM

On the contrary; Aunt Mo raised an encouraging eyebrow. I live amongst madness.


I love Deirdre.

Her "voice" is amazing.


:P


Kat

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#29 Lexigurl101

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Posted 19 March 2008 - 07:00 PM

Loved it as usual!
Can't wait to see what will happen this weekend...;-)
<3 Lexi
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#30 princesskate14

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Posted 19 March 2008 - 08:44 PM

Ah, I love Aunt Mo. <3 :D She's awesome.

Loved the update Gracey. Hopefully you'll be able to post a longer one when you get back. Hope you have a fabulous time!!


Much love,
Katie
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#31 rissagirl810

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Posted 19 March 2008 - 09:01 PM

LOVE THE UPDATE!!!!

Update again soon!!

~ris~
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#32 :)paige(:

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 01:58 AM

please update soon
i love this story!

Paige
xxxx
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#33 noleey

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 04:37 AM

:D So good.

Can't wait to see what happens this weekend..

Nicole :mgbubblegum:
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#34 Cabot~Fan

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 03:50 PM

Loved the update Gracey!

You're still amazing even though it was short... only you can pull off such amazingness in an update that small.

Have fun on vacation :)

~Chelsie~ ♥

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#35 Ami

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 03:59 PM

Gracey, awesome update!

I hope you have fun in Florida!

Update when you can!

:heartbeat:

Luuuurve, Ami . . X

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#36 SoccerRules

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Posted 22 March 2008 - 05:09 PM

I smirked ever so slightly. It was nice to be doubted, so long as I was proven correct.
Love,
Gracey :elmo:


lol, I love that too. It get's on my mom's nerves.
Lovely update.

*waves to elmo* :mgwave:
*waves to Gracey* :mgwave:

Cerra
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#37 P.O.G_Wannabee

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Posted 31 March 2008 - 01:08 PM

bump.

I'm guessing your still away, I think this is the longest one of your stories has gone without a post, like ever.

Damn, and I ruined it!

much love anyways,
Diana
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#38 Soccer_Fanatic

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Posted 01 April 2008 - 12:39 AM

Okay, just read ALL of it. *wipes invisible sweat from brow* And I liked it, because Deirdre actually has a mature depth and Bane makes me smile. Deirdre's blushing is relatable, too, 'cause when I blush, my miniscule Irishness shows. :)
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#39 :)paige(:

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Posted 01 April 2008 - 09:57 AM

Oh i so love this story!!!
its completely great please update!!!!

Paige
xxxx
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#40 peanut_butter

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Posted 01 April 2008 - 03:01 PM

Phew. Sorry about leaving for two weeks, but I'm back. But I have a lot to catch up on, and I have to do some fixing on the next update, so I'll post it tonight. Promise. Just not at the moment. But I wanted to let you all know that I'm still here, not abandoning you, and that I love you all. :) :D

Love,
Gracey :elmo:
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#41 Ami

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Posted 01 April 2008 - 03:04 PM

GRACEY!!!!!!!!!

*huggles*

I've missed you :(

I hope you had a great time though.

And, woop! Update :D

Luuuuuurve, Ami . . X
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#42 :)paige(:

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Posted 01 April 2008 - 03:08 PM

Hey!
YAY YOUR BACK!!!!
:D
update pretty pretty please

Paige
xxxx
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#43 SoccerRules

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Posted 01 April 2008 - 05:05 PM

Hey Gracey! Sooooo you're back! Great...so...when is the update comming?

♥ Cerra
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#44 Lannfo75

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Posted 01 April 2008 - 05:29 PM

Loved the update Gracey! I also really liked that quote that Kat put in her post a while ago, one of my favorite parts.

Hope you had a good time in Florida. :) Update soon!

~Lauren
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#45 P.O.G_Wannabee

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Posted 02 April 2008 - 08:55 AM

Gracey, you promised..............*whiney little kid voice*

please???

ML
Diana
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