The school day was way too long and I was exhausted. I’d had enough of Cooper to last me a lifetime. Ever since I’d turned him down, he’d taken it to heart to make every moment of my life miserable. I hated the group class system. It meant that I had every single class with the insufferable jerk. I stomped angrily out into the parking lot to my small ’98 Ford Escort. My parents wanted to get me something a lot nicer and from this century, but I’d fallen for my little green companion from the moment I’d laid eyes on her. Sadly, it was reaching the end of its days and it would have to retire to that great parking lot in the sky. My baby was right in the front of the lot thanks to my early arrival to the school premises.
I leaned up against the door and searched through my backpack for my keys. All around me people filed out of the school. Where were my keys? I just about dumped everything out on the hood so I could search more carefully when a somebody leaned up next to me.
“Looking for these?”
I glared at Cooper. I moved to snatch my keys but he held them above my head, way out of my reach even if I were to humiliate myself by jumping. “Hand over the keys or you’re a dead man.”
“Is that so?”
He made as if to consider my offer. I knew it was just a farce. He’d been planning this carefully since the moment he’d stolen my keys.
His hand dropped a fraction of an inch. “I don’t really believe you. So tell you what,” he paused and I knew I wasn’t going to like the next thing that came from his mouth, “I’ll give you your keys when you give me a kiss.” He tapped his cheek lightly in the place he wanted said kiss.
I took a step back, preparing to deliver a vicious kick to his gut.
A voice interrupted me. “Leave her alone!” Jason looked angry. Cassidy’s face was contorted in worry.
“Go away, Jason,” I snapped at him. “I’m handling this.” I did not need his help!
Jason didn’t listen. “Why do you always have to be so mean to Cadence? Why can’t you just lay off?”
“Couldn’t you try to be less of a jerk?” Cassidy interjected softly.
I hated that they talked like I wasn’t even there.
People were starting to stop and watch. I felt my cheeks flame in embarrassment at the scene.
“At least I’m only talk.” He seemed to relish the attention. “I’m not some wolf in sheep’s clothing,” he nodded at Cassidy.
She paled visibly.
He continued. I felt the ground fall out beneath me. “I’m not the one who broke her heart.”
The world was still. Jason’s mouth had fallen open. Cassidy gasped and took an involuntary step back. Her foot caught the lip of the sidewalk and she fell to the ground. My world was over.
“What did you say?” Jason whispered.
A grim smile broke out across Cooper’s face. “Let me spell it. You. Broke. Her. Heart.”
That’s it. I was done. I resumed the stance I had taken before Jason had materialized. Cooper doubled over gasping as my foot connected with his gut. The keys were in my hand almost before they’d even touched the ground. I didn’t even bother repacking my backpack. I smashed everything in between my hands and shoveled it in my car. My cell phone fell out from my grip and landed under my car. I considered it an inevitable loss of battle and left it. I climbed into my car and drove away. The time from when I’d kicked Cooper to when I escaped covered the span of about five milliseconds. I’d have to improve my getaway time later. Five milliseconds was four point nine milliseconds too many in an emergency situation.
My car’s air conditioning was broken and it was the middle of September. The hot smugness of summer had yet to melt away. My windows had to be rolled down manually with a handle that had fallen off. As I drove home, I didn’t take the effort to reattach the crank and open my window. I didn’t deserve to be relived of the sauna. I was a horrible friend who couldn’t let my two best friends be happy. I sweated like a pig as I drove the 18 miles back home. Sweating like a pig is a stupid expression, I thought moodily to myself. Pigs don’t even have sweat glands. That’s why that had to wallow in the mud: to keep cool.
I reached my home way too soon. I hadn’t had a chance to torture myself enough for being a bad friend. I stormed inside. My parents weren’t back yet from whatever charity event they happened to be hosting that day. Our house was so meticulous that if I wanted to grab a paper and pencil, I would have had to run all the way upstairs to the storage closet. Instead, I grabbed one of each from my backpack. I scribbled out a quick note:
Broke my phone. Took my jet ski. C.
Normally I would take the kayak, but I wouldn’t have time to make it to the island and back if I took the Kayak. Plus my mom was always happy when I used one of their gifts. The only reason I’d mentioned the broken phone was so my parents wouldn’t worry when I didn’t answer. Also so they could buy me a new one. It wasn’t exactly like money was an issue in my house.
I quickly threw on one of my warmer swimming suits and clipped a life jacket on over it. As an afterthought, I grabbed a small throw blanket. I stomped out the back door and along the dock. I didn’t bother looking around me as untethered the ski.
An eerie feeling washed over me. I stood up straight and looked around. Nothing looked at all out of the ordinary. The picture of a girl popped into my head. She had long blonde hair, a pale face, and eyes as dark as the back of the moon. A shiver passed through me. I repeatedly looked around me as I finished my preparations. I left the dock with a sigh of relief.
Even though the water was chilly as it splashed in my face, I reveled in the feeling. To be out in the open, breathing the crisp air, to be free. I was going to my favorite place. At least, it used to be my favorite place, back when Jason and I used to visit it, before Cassidy. Now it tormented me with memories of what used to be. It was now my own personal means of torturing myself.
I scowled as a plane flew by overhead. My parents loved that our house was so close to that “cute little airport.” I found it annoying. Luckily they didn’t get a whole lot of business. I urged my ski to speeds closer to 70 mph so I could pass Washington Island quickly. The sky was practically perfect, except for that one blot of clouds. It was a “good fly day.”
Who the heck did Cooper Little think he was?! All I’d ever done to him was decline going on a second date. The first had been a disaster after all. Cooper was on the varsity football team, not that that was really much of an accomplishment considering that our graduating class was only 42 people strong. The whole date, when he wasn’t ignoring me to watch nameless pro-teams plays on the TV above my head, he’d been bragging about his nonexistent football skills. He couldn’t stop talking about how he was in the starting lineup or how he’d almost scored a zillion and five points against that one team from down state. I’m pretty sure that everybody on the team started and that Cooper had never even touched the ball, forget about scoring points! I spent the whole time politely nodding and using incredible amounts of self-control to not bang my head repeatedly against the table. Thank you Cooper, now my life was over. When I got home I would have to tell my parents that I was moving to Florida to live with grandma.
I passed Washington Island. I’d made it a stupid game to guess when I crossed the border into Minnesota. When I was little, Jason and I had been so sure that crossing into Minnesota was like crossing into a new world. We’d often talk about how it had a different feel surrounding it. We pretended we were astronauts exploring a strange new place. I wondered if tears were slipping from my eyes, intermingling with the spraying surf. Each memory was like a knife, slowly cutting away at my soul. Wow, when did I get so overdramatic?
Minnesota in three, two, one, now. No wait! Now. No, definitely now! I was in Minnesota.
I weaved around the smaller islands waiting for my own little Poverty Island to show its face. I saw it and smiled. Just like always, the dilapidated lighthouse stood waiting to greet me.
I brought the ski in slowly until it lodged itself on the bank. I made sure that it wouldn’t drift off by securing it to a rock. The water lapped cold against my shins. I shivered and grabbed my supplies. As I walked up the beach I wrapped the blanket around my shoulders. I saw garter snakes flitting about among the rocks. They seemed more agitated than usual.
The lighthouse reminded me of happier times. I felt sick thinking about them, but that was kind of the point. In a way, the lighthouse was like me. At one time it had been the shining beacon , but now it was falling apart. I remember a time when people used to look to me for guidance. I’d kept the secret well hidden for a long time and no one had made the connection. Jason had been the only one and he hadn’t told anybody. But somebody found out, and like lightning it had flashed across the school. Now my life was endless thunder. Everybody knew I was filthy rich.
The change hadn’t been immediate, but slowly my friends had started dissolving away. I heard the rumors circulating about the outlandish things I owned, including a castle in Ireland made of gold. People said that I thought I was better than them, that I’d always held myself slightly aloof. My parents riches had robbed me. That was the real reason I was clinging onto my junker car until its dying breath. Everything I owned that wasn’t perfect helped me feel like a normal human.
The stairs creaked something awful. My heart speed up its pace in fear, like it was trying to get as many beats in as it could before I fell through the floor to my death. I tried to be as light on my feet as possible. Chipping white paint flaked onto my back and hair as I pressed myself against the wall. I scooted slowly by the giant hole that consisted of more missing steps than I cared to think about. I push up with my back on the trap door and climbed from the hole to the upper house. My heart seemed to sigh in relief. I briefly wondered if other people thought of their heart as its own being. I thought mine had a rather strong personality with all the mood changes it seemed to go through. Like for instance, when I stood and saw the view, my heart dropped from a million beats per minute to maybe three.
I let the view overwhelm me for a moment. Then I turned away. I wasn’t there to experience happiness and beauty. I was there to be punished. I sank to the floor. From there I could only see the sky. I closed my eyes. Even the sky was too good for me.
Jason’s face swam behind my eyelids. I felt tears break beyond my eyelid barrier. I wasn’t worth Jason’s notice. I’d been stupid to convince myself. I built a fire in my mind and burned all of my break-up-Cassidy-and-Jason-so-Jason-comes-back-to-me plans, one by one until my mind was full of the ashes they’d left behind. I opened my eyes so that those too could wash out with my tears.
The world around me was considerably darker. I knew my imagination wasn’t great enough to overrule the logical part of my brain. In other words, I wasn’t seeing darkness because of my tears filled with imaginary ashes. The lighthouse shook as thunder rumbled across the sky. My heart began to speed again. I was stuck on Poverty until the storm passed. I raised myself to my knees and looked out.
My little water ski had become dislodged in the swelling waves. I watched in horror as it smashed again and again into the rock.
* * * * *
The boy felt extremely weak. He’d used all his meticulously stored energy on visiting the girl. His poor heart had been running solely on adrenaline when he’d returned to his self after his visit. As he reached the place he called home, he felt his heart begin to recharge. He felt happy that the little guy could take a break. Even so, it would be days before the boy could go running around fully juiced again. The boy briefly wondered if others personified their hearts as much as he did.
Objects around him focused and the boy’s smile faded. The land looked worse, not better. From where he was standing, he could see chunks of the wall falling away.
The boy turned to see that the older lady was already there. “I’m sorry, Nayloni.”
The woman smiled sadly. “True as that me be, Nayto, you didn’t answer my question.”
The boy made himself look into her gray eyes. “She woke up.”
The woman closed her eyes. A sign escaped from her lips. “What did you say to here? I hope you did not scare her away from here forever.”
The boy looked at the wall. Cracks spread over every inch of it. Sections were beginning to crumble. “I did not tell her about this place. I told her to think of me when she went to sleep. I did not know what else to do.”
“You did well, Nayto. We can only hope she finds this place herself before it is too late.”
The boy’s eyes fell to the ground. “I’m sorry, Nayloni.”
“It’s not your fault.”
The boy walked away. The wall wouldn’t last the time it would take him to get the energy to return. He absentmindedly said hello to the quiet people he passed. Nayloni wasn’t happy when the boy did the thing he was thinking of doing. He’d left his light on in his room and not slept for enough time for his parents to think he had insomnia. He still had the sleeping pills in his drawer. He would force himself to sleep longer than his body thought it needed. He had to build up energy to make another visit. He felt a flash of anger at the girl. Why wouldn’t she do what he’d told her? Everything depended on her.