JELLYFISH / SHOOTING STAR
After my visit to Mrs. Auckland’s room, I had chemistry. That class passed by uneventfully, especially now seeing as most people still weren’t back from their holiday vacations. Lucky turds. Like I gave a damn about the functions of epoxies in modern machinery.
At the end of the day, an end that came way too long, Sarah caught me, and she was with Hanna. They came from a general left direction just as soon as I was walking out to my car. Sarah had an amused grin on her face, while Hanna was trying to do the same. Hanna was a little shorter than I was, probably just a head shorter. She wore her straight black hair down and long and wore thin-framed glasses. Her skin was dusky brown, owed to her mother and father.
Hanna had a heart-shaped pixie face that smiled at me now. It was obvious, though, that she was still hurting. Normally her golden-brown eyes sparkled; not though, they were dead and flat. I became intensely aware then, poised to listen for anything at all in her voice.
“Hey Jared!” Sarah smiled, brushing a stray ginger lock off her face. “Since it’s Friday I decided to have a party at my house. You coming?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I admitted. “I have to—”
“Come on, Jared,” Hanna said, and that was the first time since drama I heard her speak. “It’ll be a good break. Plus, you’re our only way to get home. We kinda missed the buses ‘cause we knew you’d say yes.” She smiled at me, the widest smile her small pixie face could give.
“Damn you, Watson,” I laughed. “All right fine, get in the car.” They both gave a collective “Yay!” as I opened the back door. I got into the driver seat and started the ignition. Just as soon as all of the traffic was totally clear, I pulled out of the parking lot and started to make a beeline for Sarah’s house.
When we were a little way down the road, they started talking about trivial stuff. Stuff like how their day was, what they saw, blah blah blah. I said the right things at the appropriate moments so I didn’t seem too bored by their banter. And then a little way down the road, Hanna asked a question that I knew was for me.
“So Jared how’s…?” She purposely left it hanging.
“That?” I mumbled. “It’s okay.”
“You didn’t talk?” she pressed. Unconsciously, I think, I turned up the volume a little on the radio. The announcer’s voice now sort of drowned out Hanna—albeit a little rudely, I admit.
“Nah,” I replied. “It’s okay. I mean, it’s not like, you know…he has to know or anything.”
“Are you ever going to tell, anyway?” That question came from Sarah—these two were the only few of my friends that I had told, along with a couple of others.
Hanna and Sarah both gasped very audibly and raggedly at the same time—I almost skidded the car to a halt.
“Jared you can’t—”
“—Gotta tell somebody besides—”
“—Keeping it bottled in—”
“—Why not tell—”
“Stop damn it!” I turned off the radio and turned to leer at them, trying to blindly maneuver the car down the road—a generally bad idea. “Look, it’s okay with me if he never knows. I really don’t care. We’re about to go to a party. So can we please not have this discussion?”
“Jared…” Hanna started.
“Hanna, what did I say? Please, can we not?”
“Jared,” she said it more urgently.
“Hanna! You and your one track mind—”
“You are about to crash into a fence!”
“Aw hell,” I mumbled and swiftly turned the wheel all the way to one side to avoid crashing into someone’s pretty wrought iron fence, and I made it. Thank God I didn’t scratch the Versa—that fence would have gotten off easier than I did. Hanna and Sarah were panting heavily as soon as we were back on the road after they were done screaming like banshees.
“Thought that only happened in movies,” Sarah muttered, swiping away a piece of hair from her face.
“Not everyday you get into a near death situation,” I said to try and lighten the mood again. “It’s a learning experience, really.” I hoped they didn’t notice the quiver of tension in my voice.
When we got to Sarah’s house, the biggest non-living thing on Green, we were greeted by her older sister Allie. Allie had graduated the year before; she was attending some tech university now. Today was one of her break days. She looked a lot like Sarah, except her hair was even more ginger than her little sister’s. Like the rest of the O’Leary family, she was pale with a dusting of freckles across her cheeks. Allie was easily one of the nicest people I knew and there was no doubt in my mind a party was her idea.
“Hi, Jared and Hanna!” she shouted across the lawn. She was seated outside on a bench near the door, reading a book.
“Hi Allie!” Hanna shouted back. Hanna was tiny, much like a pixie, but her voice was so big it catches you off guard. Then she started storming across the yard, kicking up snow as she went along. I assumed she was just being her usual Hanna act-like-a-freak-when-you’re-hyper-self, but then I changed my mind when she dove into Allie’s arms and curled up into her. The pain was evident on her face, breaking through the dams she had put up in herself.
“She’s been wanting to talk to Allie,” Sarah explained solemnly.
“I see,” I said quietly. “Um, so we’re getting started? Party? Shindig?”
“Oh right!” Sarah’s face cracked into a widely dumbfounded smile. “Jeez, I’m so scatterbrained. Break out the arsenic, Allie, we’ve got a party to start!” Sarah dashed off toward the direction of the doors.
Like I’d said before, the O’Leary’s were very, very…very well off. Their front yard was decorative and amazing but the inside was, in layman’s terms, a castle. The walls of the front hall of the house were made of blue marble inlaid in fake lapis lazuli, so were the floors. The ceiling here was lofty and high up and at the top was a skylight. Clear January light touched the floors and made them glimmer, throwing light that shattered across the walls. A soaring curved staircase dominated one side of the foyer; its white wood matched the underwater atmosphere of what could be seen.
There was just one word to describe this place: more—it just was more.
“I’ve said this before,” Hanna mumbled, staying close to Allie; “but your house is bloody excellent.”
“Dad hired a good contractor,” Allie said with a smile on her face. She hovered just behind Hanna, keeping a safe distance just in case. I heard girls become really fragile when they’re emotional and it’s probably true.
“Wait, I’ll take your coats,” Sarah said, stopping in front of us. Hanna handed her hers and she just threw it onto the staircase. I did the same, but instead of throwing it with Hanna’s, Sarah mashed it between her hands and was basically manhandling it.
“Um…?” I looked at her, conveying drastic confusion rather clearly.
“Sorry!” She smiled broadly and threw it off to the side. “Security checks!”
Allie led us into the high-ceilinged living room, which used to be decorated in a dramatic red wood but now it was changed to the same theme as the foyer. I was caught by total surprise when I looked up one wall—that used to be totally blank—and I saw that there was a waterfall that splashed down into a fantastical base. How much money did these people have? I was thoroughly dumbfounded.
“We got that last Saturday,” Allie said, a hint of crassness affecting her tone. “I swear, dad’s just throwing away all our money on these unimportant things like two-story indoor waterfalls.”
“Still, it makes a good party piece!” Sarah said, giving her sister a hopeful grin.
“Oh right!” Allie smacked the heel of her palm to her forehead; her mood changed instantly. “Darn, and it was my idea to start with! I should go call….”
“Worry not sister mine,” Sarah interrupted her, putting a hand up. “I’ve invited everybody at school today! We’ll be just fine with the guest list.”
“Everybody at school?” Allie asked apprehensively. “We can have a house party…but not a super huge one….”
“I just invited my friends.” Sarah shrugged. “So that would be these two—” she made a hand motion towards Hanna and I—“and also Anna, Emily, Danielle, Nash and Christian.”
As soon as that last name escaped Sarah’s lips, I instantly gave her a frantic look. I saw the sidelong glance she gave me—I’m pretty sure Hanna didn’t miss it either.
“Christian who?” Allie asked. And then her face broke into that persuasive tight-lipped smile of hers. “Have you got a boyfriend you haven’t told me about young lady?”
“No!” Sarah laughed. “Christian Blanchard’s a guy from school who does like all this music stuff. I thought it would be great for him to come, you know, get to know some more people. He doesn’t seem to have very many friends.”
“But I’m friends with him, Sarah,” Hanna said, raising her hand and imitating a little child’s voice. “I’m bestest best friends with Christian.” That last line made Allie burst into hearty laughter.
“You are so cute!” she squealed. “Oh wow. Well all right, just as long as somebody here knows him.” She turned on her heel toward the vicinity of the kitchen. “I’m going to get your snacks and such ready. And some pizza’s coming later, so I hope you all didn’t eat too much.” And then she was off, her red hair flying behind her like a curtain.
“Okay!” Sarah called after her. “Oh Lord do I love my sister. She’s just great.”
“I do too,” I said in a purposely constrained voice. “And can I also ask you why you invited Chris—Ch—him?”
“That was my idea,” Hanna admitted again, dropping the child’s voice. “Look, this could be the one opportunity you will get in forever just to talk to him. Why not make the most of it?”
“I won’t do it.” I crossed my arms stubbornly.
“At least try to make friends with him,” Hanna pleaded. “What have you got to lose?”
“My dignity,” I said. “And my self-control. I might do something I’ll regret forever.”
“So then just see what will happen,” Hanna continued. “You never know until you try.” I have to admit I had nothing left to go on by that point. So, like a child who didn’t get what he wanted, I turned away from her, arms folded and shoulders hunched. I could not believe she was making me do this! I don’t need to talk to him. I don’t want to talk to him. Christian Blanchard? Blah, he was nobody. No one at all. Blah, ew. Stupid Hanna.
During our conversation, I’d noticed with a glance in her general direction that Sarah had gone off. I’d assumed that she’d gone to go set up the entertainment area. I won’t lie when I say that Sarah literally has walls upon walls of DVDs—most of them being TV series like Buffy. She also had Scene It?, just about every edition there was. Well, it was her party, anyway….
“…being such a baby,” Hanna said. “Just do it. You’ll save yourself early gray hairs.”
“Okay!” I burst out, submitting to her. God, could she ever be so stubborn. “Okay, I’ll talk to him. If it will make you feel better.”
“Thank you!” she said in a honey-sweet voice. “And I talk to him about you sometimes too. He thinks you’re pretty cool.”
“Really?” I asked, turning around to face her. There was definitely a mark of sincerity in her eyes—suddenly, my heart quivered and skipped a beat. She wasn’t lying.
“Yes, really,” she confirmed. She started walking a vague direction and then I followed her; an automatic response of mine. “You’re both artistic in a way. You like your paintings and stuff, and he likes music. You would definitely find something to talk about.”
“He’s got an older brother too. So, I guess you could talk about that—though, apparently his brother Gabe is a really nice guy.”
“Lucky him, I get stuck with Wes.”
“Wes is nice to me, sometimes.”
“You talked to him once, ever.”
“Yeah, that’s true. But he was nice to me on that occasion!”
“First for everything.” I paused and missed a step when I noticed Allie in the corner of my eye, pouring chips into bowls, and then continued after Hanna.
“Back to Christian,” she said. “Yeah so, I don’t see why you haven’t like, met him yet.”
“I’ve met him,” I disagreed. “We talked for a split second. Actually he asked for an eraser, and that was it.”
“So you have a little something to go on!”
“Maybe. So what am I gonna do? Talk about erasers? ‘Oh yeah I remember you, you asked for my eraser that one class’—that’s a little creepy.”
“I didn’t mean it like that. Jeez, Jared you’re so bad at meeting new people.”
“Really?” I said it dryly.
“Especially when you’re stressed out.”
“Well, I’m sorry. I can’t really help that—”
“Bloody hell! Sarah you scared the living daylights out of me.” Hanna had jumped back almost all the way into me.
Hanna and I had stopped walking and stopped in front of the entryway to the entertainment area, all of which I only noticed just now. Sarah was sticking her head out of the door frame with a triumphant smile on her face.
“Sorry! I just finished setting up Scene It? is all!” She patted Hanna’s head. “Didn’t mean to scare you too much.”
“Thanks, Sarah,” Hanna mumbled sardonically.
Just at that moment—while I had been hoping for something else to happen so I wouldn’t have to discuss it—the doorbell rang. Sarah went over to cross the long distance between that room and the door, and opened one of the triple doors. The first guest was Emily Hopkins and she had arrived with Anna Leblanc.
“Welcome servants!” Sarah greeted them, taking their coats and tossing them on the staircase.
“What a roaring party, Sarah!” Anna said jokingly. She looked at Hanna and I and waved at us. Anna was a friend of a friend of mine, and that was basically it. She was a friend of Sarah’s, but I didn’t know her at all; actually, she was pretty annoying. Emily came in soon afterward.
I guess that left three people on the guest list—Nash, Danielle and Christian. Yay.
Wait, Danielle? As in Layton? As in girl-Mrs.-Auckland-wants-me-to-talk-to? This was easy, at least. And instead of talking to Christian I could talk to her instead! I’m so damn crafty. Probably got it from dad.
Dad! Damn, I just remembered I came straight from school to Sarah’s. I probably had to call.
“Allie?” I called into the kitchen. She looked up at me from filling bowls with candy. “Can I use your phone?”
“Are you leaving?” She looked dejected.
“No, I need to call my parents and tell them where I am,” I said. Then I smiled at her. “If I wanted to leave I’d just take my car, you know.”
“Right, right!” Allie giggled at her own forgetfulness. “It’s just that when I was getting my car, I had to wait until I was eighteen. Kids these days, they grow up so fast.” I nodded. Funny, she was eighteen just three months ago. I went to the side of the kitchen where the phone was and dialed the familiar number.
“Hello?” came a voice on the other side. It was my mom. Great.
“Mom? It’s Jared.”
“Where have you been, Jared? I was expecting you here twenty minutes ago!”
“Mom it’s okay, I’m at the O’Leary’s place. There was a party that came up unexpectedly.”
“A party? Well all right…” It’s always hard talking to your mom when she’s Asian, for God’s sake. “Are their parents there?”
“No parents?! Jared McGrady, you come home right this instant! You are not attending a party when there are no parents!”
“Allie’s here mom, you trust her don’t you?” At that moment Allie shouted “Hi Mrs. McGrady!” from her seat.
“Of course I do.” There, I got past the worst of her. “How long are you staying?” Damn, didn’t know that part.
“I’ll just call when I’m coming home.” Mom hates that answer.
“When will that be? Ten, eleven?”
“You’ve got to stop worrying mom, please. Just trust me.”
“Well…well, okay. I trust you. You’re more responsible than your brother, at any rate. Just come home when we’re still awake, okay?”
“Okay, mom. See you later. Bye.” I hung up before she could change her mind.
“That was your mom?” Sarah said, coming suddenly with Anna and Emily behind her.
“Yeah, she was giving me hell about being responsible.”
“Aw!” Sarah laughed. “I love your mom! She’s just so cute.”
“Ha, yeah.” Try living with her everyday. “Oh, by the way, is the Danielle that’s coming Danielle Layton? The new girl?”
“Yeah,” Sarah said. “Why? Is there something wrong with that?”
“No, I’ve been wanting to talk to her is all. Make her feel welcome and such.”
“Okay, that’s great.” The doorbell rang again. “Oh. That must be her!” Sarah again crossed the distance from the kitchen to the door and opened one of the doors. A girl stepped through, and it was pretty obvious that this was Danielle.
“Hi, Sarah,” I heard her mumble in the strange dead silence that fell over everyone when the door opened. I was rather surprised, quite frankly.
Danielle was pale like snow, paler than even Sarah or Allie. Her eyes were an interesting shade of green, ringed in dark eyeliner. Her hair was a strange shade of red which I knew came out of a box—one bang covered one eye, and the rest was pulled up in a messy-looking ponytail. She wore a black shirt with a strange design that looked glaringly familiar—one half of it looked like something I’d seen before while the other half was the dissolved-looking continuation of it.
Was this the same girl who’d devised the macabre painting I’d seen? It wouldn’t surprise me.
“…so glad you could make it,” Sarah was saying. “This is Hanna Watson, Emily Hopkins, Anna Leblanc and Jared McGrady. This is my sister Allie.” Danielle seemed to flinch a little inside.
“Welcome to our ever-so-humble abode!” Allie said with a huge smile on her face.
“Thanks,” Danielle told her. “It is very nice.” I could see that her eyes were shifting in a direction, but it was like she was forcing them not to look. At what?
“Glad you think so, our dad threw away lots of money so it would look nice,” Allie said. I didn’t fail to catch the bitterness there. “So, come this way,” Sarah said, taking her by the arm. “We’ve got assorted baubles of amusement that may amuse you.”
“Like Scene It?” Danielle said, looking a bit uncomfortable.
“Why, yes. How did you know?”
“I kinda guessed you were the type who likes movies….” And all five of them went into the entertainment area at once. I was left kind of standing there. I didn’t want to go right away—I was waiting. I didn’t think Allie missed that, because I heard her stop what she was doing and then her footsteps were coming up behind me.
“Oh hello, my friend,” she said, putting her long arms around me from behind.
“Allie,” I replied in a dead voice.
“You don’t want him to come, do you?” When she said that, it surprised me. I didn’t think she knew. I had to give her credit; she was a perceptive person.
“I know lots of people like you. They’re great people. And you are too.”
“Maybe,” I mumbled. “Or maybe I’m a freak after all.”
“Don’t say that! You can’t be a freak because nobody’s the same. A freak is something that isn’t the same within a group of identical individuals. And nobody in the world is identical, so you certainly aren’t a freak.”
“So what am I?”
“Jared McGrady,” she replied simply.
“I was expecting a little more,” I accused childishly.
“Yeah, well. You’re only you after all.” She let go of me and turned me around—I didn’t have a lot of control over myself for a while there. “So go ahead, go join them. I’ll be in with the food later.”
“Okay,” I said, lacking an argument anymore. “And, thanks Allie. You’re great.”
“What I’m here for,” she said with a smile.
I went to join Sarah and the rest of them in Scene It? and I had purposely lumped myself with Danielle. She seemed a little surprised, or something, at first, but then she eventually turned to me willingly. The light dancing in her jungle-green eyes signified interest.
Actually, I didn’t get a chance to talk right away. We were in teams of two, and I was with Danielle; Hanna with Anna and Sarah with Emily. Sarah was answering most of the questions, and so was Danielle. Which was good because I’d never even heard of half the movies that came up. Eventually toward the end of the game, which was maybe an hour and a half later, I got her talking to me instead of playing.
“You’re in Mrs. Auckland’s art class,” I started. “I saw your painting. My God, I will tell you now I was amazed.”
“Really?” she said, blushing a bit. “The Merchant at Paris in July?”
“If that’s what it’s called, the really dark and gory one, then yes.”
“Most people think it’s gory, it really isn’t. That’s just the way I painted it.”
“Yeah, Mrs. Auckland told me that. I was really quite amazed.” I looked down at the floor. “She thinks you’ll get the best in the show.”
“Really?” She was intensely surprised there. “How? I mean, that’s great, but how? I’ve only been here so long….”
“She didn’t tell me why, but it was certainly enough to beat me.”
“Yeah, you’re Jared McGrady—best in show for three years now. Undefeated!” She smiled widely, exposing multicolored braces. “Until now.”
“Thank you, thank you, no need for applause.” I smiled back at her. Her smile became smaller; she put her head down a little and looked up at me.
“So what else are you into? Besides painting.”
“Arts in general. Arts is amazing—drama, music; just the idea of being able to create something totally new is just…I don’t know, appealing.”
“I agree! I mean, when you make something like that, it’s yours and you have the rights and stuff to it.” Wow, Danielle was an impassioned speaker.
“Yeah, that’s what I mean. The fact that something out of your mind comes to form is the best part, if you think about it that way. Namely for art.”
“True, true.” She pointed at herself. “Do you see this on my shirt? It’s something I made up myself. Wanna hear the explanation?”
“Well, okay. The top part is from a Japanese character, and—”
“Maru. Round? Circle? Perfection?”
“Yes, all of those.” She looked at me in the eye, openly showcasing her awe. “Can—can you speak Japanese? Or understand it, to some degree.”
“Yes and yes,” I replied. “My mom is Japanese. She thinks it’s important for us to learn about her side of the family.”
“She sounds pretty cool. So, like I was saying, yeah, the top part is half of the character for ‘perfection’. And the bottom part shows it breaking apart and just falling away. What I mean by this is, the top part is how the world, society, prefers the way things to be, pure and perfect. But really, it’s not perfect. The bottom shows its inside—that society is rotting, dissolving away into nothing. And without one, the other wouldn’t exist. Perfection and flaw—the core of the world.”
“Wow,” I said, at a complete loss. As if this girl just totally amazed me twice today. As if! “That is…beyond brilliant. That is critical thinking, that’s so amazing….” I went on like that for another minute and every word I said felt like I was repeating the same things over and over again. I eventually stopped because her face was bright red like a cherry tomato.
“Sorry, did I say something wrong?” I asked her.
“No, not at all.” She giggled brainlessly in between words. “Just, I never got so much praise for something I ever did before is all….”
“Well it’s about damned time, no?”
“Yeah, I suppose. Thanks.”
“So how long has it been since you came to St. Mary’s?”
“A week or so ago. It’s a little awkward, because I got put into classes when there’s maybe six classes left, but I don’t have to take exams at the very least.”
“Lucky. What do you have next semester?”
“Math, history, French and a spare.”
“Awesome. But we’ll have no classes together….”
“That’s not cool—”
“Wait, no, I have history. But I don’t know what period it is. It could be second—” Suddenly at that moment the doorbell rang. For the love of God I hoped it was Nash.
“I’ll get it!” Sarah said, jumping off her seat. “It’s probably Nash. Christian wasn’t sure if he’s coming anyway.”
“What a shame,” Hanna said.
“Yes, a shame,” I echoed, smiling to myself.