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5
THREE HUNDRED SIXTY


When Jared got to my house not far from his, I insisted that he went home. Nobody had to see me this way. He insisted on staying, but eventually he caved in and drove down the road home. I looked in the drive—nobody was home yet, and my brother Henry was at his friend’s house. I unlocked the door to my one-level bungalow and I made a beeline right for my room and locked the door.

First thing I could concentrate on was the blue of the room. It was pale, neutral and still and calming. I didn’t bother to go to my computer to turn anything on; I needed the silence that was already there. I sunk into my bed and it made a scrunching noise. Too loud. The sound was a thousand times amplified in my distraught ears. I rolled over, trying to make as little sound as possible.

I was exhausted, for one thing. My eyes felt like they were rolling back into my head. I took off my glasses—the sharpness in the details that I saw were too much to handle. For another thing, I was so weak. I could barely lift even a finger to wipe the pathetic tears that lingered at the corners of my eyes now. The room was spinning. Too much blue now, way too much.

And then my head started spinning. Recounting of the day that had started badly and ended a million times worse than I had anticipated. Lies? Truths? What were they? They may as well have been the same thing—they were for God knows how long in my sad romance. I clutched at my chest—like it was an automatic reaction. It felt like a sharp bed of thorns was sitting where my heart should be. And yet it felt like if I had a real heart there, I would feel more emotion than I had to. It hurt, but I let the thorns sit there.

I don’t know how long I spent sitting there, staring at the twilit afternoon. Pale gold light slowly became orange and the color became more and more burnt. I heard Henry come back home and it sounded like he had a friend with him. They were making lots of noise; I didn’t care though. The more of a racket they made, the more my world closed in, trying to suffocate me.

An hour or more passed. My parents finally got home and I prayed they wouldn’t want to come check in my room. I heard footsteps coming my way—oh damn, damn, damn. I didn’t want either of them to see me like this. I let myself look all limp, like I was sleeping.

“Hanna,” my mom was starting to say. “Did you have din—” She was cut off by a new sound: the doorbell rang twice sharply. My mom turned and went to go and answer it. When the door opened I heard some voices that were fairly familiar—but they were muted, hushed. Suddenly I heard my mom come back.

“Guests for you, Hanna,” she said. “Danielle and Sarah. Should I let them in, are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I said, sounding weaker than I thought. “Let them in.” Not long after that I heard the door to my room nearly burst open and concerned clamoring noises in the room. Two heads which I knew were Danielle Layton and Sarah O’Leary passed in front of the window and shut out the light.

“We heard what happened from Jared,” Danielle said, stroking my forehead and sitting on the bed next to me. “We came to see if you were okay.”

“And to offer condolences,” Sarah said, sitting at the foot of my bed. “And cookies! But mostly condolences.”

“Really?” I said, and I noticed my voice was on the verge of breaking. “You didn’t have to….”

“Of course I did!” Sarah insisted. “They’re in the kitchen. Allie made me take them in the hopes that the delightful smell of cookie would pick you up!”

“Wow.” I had no more words for that; Allie’s concern was otherworldly. I loved her so much. I curled more into Danielle’s hand and then Sarah came over closer. We sat there in silence for a little while, me quietly sniveling into Danielle and Sarah’s combined hug that seemed permanent. I didn’t want to talk nor did I want them to know what the whole story was; not now, anyway.

“Uh…” I said after a while. “I’m a little hungry….”

“Cookies?” Sarah suggested.

“Oh, we should,” Danielle agreed. They both let go of me at the same time and got off the bed and made space for me to get off. I shifted slowly—my head swam in this new air. It felt the room was spinning three hundred sixty degrees a second and I was the middle of it. I stumbled—the world returned to view for a split second, and I caught myself. Danielle and Sarah steadied me, and led me outside to the kitchen.

It was getting only a little dark. Allie’s cookies sat on the counter in a pink plastic bag. Outside the sunset was deepening, gradually sinking into more darkness. It was just about 6:00p.m. Danielle and Sarah went right for the cookies—they looked like some kind of super-decadent health hazard. There was a thick layer of purple frosting and sprinkles shaped like eggs and stars on each red velvet cookie. I looked at the one Sarah had in her hand questioningly.

“Oh, don’t worry,” she said. “It’s not as sugary as you’d think. It’s actually sugarless, so you can eat these without fear of diabetes!” She bit the cookie with a wide grin. “Hey! I just rhymed! Yay!” Seeing Sarah’s positivity helped to adjust me if even a little bit. I smiled faintly.

“Wow,” I mumbled absently, looking at the egg-shaped sprinkles. “You put Mr. Romney on the cookies!” Sarah and Danielle laughed, nearly choking on their cookies.

“Oh, hey,” Danielle said after she was done choking; “I invited a couple other people, because they were really worried about you. Did you mind?”

“No,” I replied. “Who though?”

“Just Jared, Christian and Emily. They might bring their friends, I don’t know.”

“Sounds okay…” I said, tentatively agreeing. Who could Emily possibly bring that was in the “Bad” camp? She didn’t like any of Jeremy’s friends, so none of them. I couldn’t think of anyone, so it was probably okay.

“Great,” Danielle said with a faint smile. “They should be coming around now, I hope.” Just then my dad came out of the tiny TV room adjacent to the kitchen. He looked at me like I had just risen from the dead, and I had to give him credit; I probably did.

“Are you alright, Hanna?” he said. “When I didn’t see you in the TV room when I got back I kinda thought you were sick.” What a way to phrase your concern, dad.

“It’s fine, dad,” I assured him.

“All right,” he said. “Are you having more friends over?” His voice became incredibly dangerous there. I knew what his real question was—“are there boys coming over?” I assured myself that he would be fine with Jared and Christian coming….

“Yeah. Emily, and Jared from down the road, and Christian.” He knew one of those boys; he had never heard of the other.

“Who’s Christian?” he asked suspiciously.

“A friend from school, dad,” I told him, making good emphasis on “friend”. Just a friend. I went over and grabbed a cookie, effectively ending our exchange. Dad shrugged and went to the fridge to grab a bottle of water and returned to the TV room.

Just minutes after that though, the doorbell rang again. I saw a familiar head of curly brown hair staring through the window. I ran to the door and pulled it open. There were in fact three people there.

“Emily!” I shouted, greeting the first of them.

“Hanna,” she almost gushed back, wrapping tiny me in her arms. “My God I was so worried. Please tell me you’re okay!”

“I’m fine,” I assured her. I looked over her shoulder to find the aforementioned two boys. “Jared, Christian. Hey!”

“Hey, Hanna,” they both greeted me simultaneously. Jared joined in with Emily, making it a huge group hug. Though, it seemed more like “scrawny Hanna being sandwiched between tall Emily and Jared”. Christian laughed and came inside, closing the door behind him.

“I got you something by the way,” Jared said when he broke off the massive hug.

“For what?” I asked him. “Is there anything going on today?” What day was it—February something…somewhere in the middle of February…

“It’s Valentine’s Day, woman,” he informed me. “So I got you a present of sorts!”

“Bloody hell!” I said, hitting the heel of my palm to my forehead. The date completely escaped me! Valentine’s Day…. I thought of the end of the day at school. How terribly ironic. I shrugged off the bitter taste I was getting in my mouth and turned to Jared to receive my present. And wow, he had a whole bag of them.

“This one is for you,” he said, handing me one in green sparkle wrapping. He knew green, specifically lime green, was my absolute favorite color in the world, so this present made some sense. I shook it to try and figure out what it was.

He laughed loudly.

“Nice try, Watson,” he said with a huge grin. “I put paper around every present, rendering the secret trump card of shaking useless! You’ll have to open it.”

“But the wrapper is so pretty.” I stroked the scintillating green wrapping softly as if it was our last moment together. It really was so pretty to look at, but I wanted the gift inside…. He set this up, I knew it. I stuck my tongue out at him; he grinned back, exposing his teeth.

“None for me?” Emily said with a faked puppy dog face.

“One for everybody, don’t worry,” he assured her. “Although, if someone else comes now, then there won’t be any left ‘cause I only made some for you guys….”

“Watch Anna come through the door right now,” I said quietly to the two of them. They laughed rather amusedly at that. For all of five minutes, Jared went around distributing the carefully wrapped presents—all of them in sparkle wrapping paper in everyone’s favorite color, the shifty snake—so I had nothing else to do but sit down. I lit the fireplace and sat there fiddling with my present while Jared handed the rest out.

Not long after that, Danielle joined me on the couch, moving close so that we were almost head to head.

“What do you think yours is?” she asked me while she fiddled with hers; wrapped in a dark pink sparkle paper.

“No clue,” I replied. “All this paper around the present makes it hard to tell.”

“He’s so considerate,” she said, with that dreamy kind of lull and a southerner’s accent to her voice. I laughed; Danielle’s impersonations were always good, her Scarlett O’Hara one was the best by far.

“Nice one,” I said.

“I try, I try,” she said with a warm smile. She sank into the couch, letting her eyes just watch the fire. She had a faraway look to her eyes which I couldn’t exactly see the reason for. Suddenly it seemed like I wasn’t even here anymore; it was her and whatever she was looking at.

“Danielle?” I said.

“Oh,” she murmured, snapping from her concentration. “Yeah, sorry. I just got really distracted for a second there.”

“It’s okay.” I smiled at her and started to watch the fire myself.

It wasn’t much longer afterward that we were being joined. First came Emily, and then Jared and Sarah came. Christian sat down in the lounge chair across from the sofa, alone.

“Come sit next to us, Christian,” I offered, making spaced beside myself.

“It’s all right,” he replied with a shrug.

“Join us,” Danielle said in an empty, tinny voice, tilting her head at a strange angle. That got a laugh out of everyone—for a girl who’s never been in drama class, she was pretty good at impersonations. Again at the end of everyone’s laughter she quieted into a distant stillness. What was wrong?

“So…” Sarah started, innocently enough. “Would you care to tell us what happened? I mean, like, if you want to.”

“I think you should, Hanna,” Jared said quietly. “I think we all should know the story now.”

I looked at them both, sitting there on the couch, waiting for my reaction. Emily was the same way. I looked at Danielle, her crystal green eyes pleading with me to do whatever I saw was right. And then I turned, looking at Christian. His face was indifferent, but I could tell behind that curtain of blond that he was urging me to do what Danielle wanted me to do. I sighed, and decided to tell them.

Quietly, I went through my story so my parents couldn’t hear. I saw the emotions on their faces cycle repeatedly—disgust, shock, pity. Soon everyone developed into their own reactions—Jared’s anger, Sarah’s disgust, Emily’s hate, Danielle’s pity, and Christian’s empty-eyed disbelief. I tried not to choke halfway, after remembering what had happened. When I finished, their expressions remained the same, just perhaps more intense.

Everyone was silent. My parents had interrupted few minutes afterward to go to bed. They didn’t question the all-powerful silence; maybe they chose not to. They deliberately walked past us, said goodnight shortly, and went into their room to sleep—or listen. Whatever it was, I didn’t care right now.

And then I did what I was hoping I wouldn’t do all day long. I had my heart back—I had my emotions back, and I started to cry. I didn’t cry gratefully like my friends were all there around me, supporting me, but I cried like I was alone in a room full of strangers. Like these familiar faces were completely alien to me. I curled into myself, desperately trying to keep myself together. They surrounded me then, starting a group hug. The gifts from this ironic Valentine’s Day were poking into my sides. I tried to ignore it, shutting my friends out, as well.

Out of everything that happened in my life up till now, this was the number one on things I wish to never repeat even for a million bucks. I felt too destroyed on the inside.

“Oh wow,” Sarah said, breaking the quiet that was slowly taking over everything. “It’s…been a long night. I think we should get going, you know?”

“Yes,” Emily agreed. “I think we’ve done all we could. So I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, Hanna…” Emily and Sarah stood up. “Should we call your parents?”

“Okay,” Sarah replied. “Danielle, are you coming with us?”

“Um,” she hesitated. “I was gonna get a ride with Jared…”

“No, he’s taking Christian home,” Sarah insisted. I saw what she was doing—purposely trying lump the two of them together. Her efforts were kinda cute, but getting the two of them to go out was an effort that would make landing on the Sun easier.

“I live near him,” Danielle protested mildly. I touched Danielle’s arm and looked her in the eye. Didn’t she get it? Maybe nobody told her yet…

“I think it’s best for you just to go with Sarah and Emily,” I told her. “You know, guys have their guy stuff they wanna talk about.” She gave me this face, one that was sort of pouting, but she sighed and gave up. If Sarah wanted to see Jared and Christian together, then she would, eventually—even if it meant tearing the world four full corners.

“Okay,” she said, standing with Emily and Sarah. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow then. Thanks, Jared!”

“No problem,” he replied with his curious smile. Danielle, Sarah and Emily all waved goodbye once more and then Emily was on her cellphone, calling her parents. They were out the door not long afterward. The last I could see of them was the glittering of their present boxes in the porch light.

That left me alone with Christian and Jared. It was strange how we sat now—I was on the couch in the middle, facing the fireplace, while they both were on either seat on both sides of the couch. I think they were looking at each other. What an awkward silence.

“So, yeah, I think I should go real soon…” Jared started. I didn’t miss his eyes flickering around the room.

“Yeah,” I agreed, smiling at him. “Oh, and take Christian too…you certainly don’t want him to walk from here all the way to King. Do you?”

“Well of course I do!” Jared snorted.

“Thanks, Jared,” Christian said with a fake-sweet dryness.

“I kid, I kid,” Jared replied with a smile. “Okay. I’ll take you home.” He stood up, holding the empty bag of presents in one hand. “See you tomorrow, Watson.”

“Yeah, see you Hanna,” Christian said as he waved at me. They went the back exit instead of the front, and when the door closed I was alone again. Surprisingly enough I felt a smile grow on my face—the one that should have popped up before.

I couldn’t believe that I had been so low earlier! Instead of realizing that my friends, my wonderful amazing and supportive friends, were the things I had to live for, I’d already cast myself aside like a used toy. But, I wasn’t just that—I was still alive. Jeremy wasn’t my whole life, no matter how much I could delude myself into thinking he was.

How stupid was I? The smile on my face became a full-blow grin and I stood up and went back to the counter. There was one cookie left, so I took it and bit down—I could feel the purple frosting sticking to my teeth, but I didn’t care right now.

I took my bright green present box and headed straight to my room. There was a tag on it:


To Watson, from McGrady; I hope you enjoy this. It’s to help you get over that scumbag. -Jared


Now, I couldn’t wait. I tore open the wrapper regretfully—goodbye, beautiful beautiful green—and opened the box inside. I pulled away the paper that Jared had purposely put into the package—and found my gift. It was a little doll that looked almost exactly like Jeremy—right down to the weird expression on its lifeless still face. There was a heart stitched onto its chest; it was a voodoo doll.

“Oh my God, Jared,” I said out loud, suppressing the enormous laugh in me. I crumpled the box and the paper and put it away in the garbage—but I noticed there was a white paper inside. Another message?


Hanna,

I’m not sure how familiar you are with voodoo dolls and stuff, and this isn’t really supposed to be real. But if it worked that’d be pretty freaking crazy. Just use it to take out your anger or something, and on bad days you can have your very own Jeremy to throw against the wall. Yay! Happy Valentine’s Day!!!

- Jared


Huh, wow. By far the oddest present I’ve ever received. I smiled though—it’s the thought that counts, after all. But a voodoo doll? How did that work? I shrugged, and then when I got an idea, I reached into my drawer and pulled out a safety pin. Just like they did in the movies, I stuck the pin right over where “Jeremy”’s heart was. I didn’t get a response from the little doll—not that I expected to. I put him right on my drawer and ducked under the sheets on my bed—it was getting late.

Before I turned off the lamp, I noticed the little tag on mini-Jeremy’s leg. Made in Melbourne, Australia. Voodoo dolls in Melbourne? Wow….

Wait. Wait. Melbourne, Melbourne…Mel—Melanie! Melanie! The name pretty much forgotten all day! Aw, Christian was here all this time and I didn’t ask him about Melanie! Great. I’m so tired and yet I can’t sleep, especially not now with Mystery Woman Melanie in my head again. Bloody damn!

I closed my eyes tightly, trying to make a mental note to ask tomorrow. But for now, to try and get some sleep—today had been a long day. Wasn’t long before I started slipping…further…under….


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