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“What do you mean?” I asked. Ray Ann and I were unpacking in our room, after a late lunch and a morning in the control room. I took a shirt from my bag, folded it and then placed it in the open drawer in front of me.
“Don’t you think you were a little cruel to Arden before?”
“You heard that?”
“Yeah. I could be mistaken, but I think the guy was trying to be nice to you.”
“Well, I don’t want to be nice to him.”
“Why? Is there something he did that you haven’t told me about?”
“He broke my heart, isn’t that enough?” I pushed the drawer shut, opened another and began unpacking my pants.
“I guess,” Ray Ann replied doubtfully. “How brutal was the break up? Why did he end it anyway?”
“He couldn’t deal with me and my crazy emotions. I was a little too dependent on him. I have too many problems.”
“He said that?” She looked at me with surprise.
“Not exactly, but it was obvious.”
“So, what did he say? Like I asked before, how bad was it?”
“Oh, he was really nice about it.” I sighed, siting down on my bed, the bottom bunk. “He couldn’t have said that he cared about me more times if he tried, or that he wasn’t trying to hurt me. It was actually the sweetest break up I’ve ever heard of. He kept telling me how special I am to him, but that things just weren’t working out.”
“He never gave you a reason?”
“Nope. That’s why I know it was my own craziness. He just didn’t say it out loud because he was afraid I’d jump out a window.”
“Maybe,” Ray Ann said. Some help she was. I didn’t blame her, though. There had been a few times I’d confided in her that I didn’t exactly think that life was worth living anymore. She probably knew exactly where Arden was coming from. She probably didn’t particularly want to be my friend anymore either, but was afraid of what I’d do if she told me.
“Josie?” Ray Ann asked cautiously, interrupting my macabre thoughts. I grunted a vague response that told her to keep going. “What if the reason is that he’s found someone else?”
“Then I’ll jump out a window.” I laughed, but Ray Ann and I both knew that there was no humor in it.
“Well, in that case, I’m glad he didn’t tell you.”
“I wouldn’t really. Jump, I mean. I’d think about it, but in reality I’d be very happy for him. I hope he finds someone who’s real sweet and who doesn’t make his life miserable.”
“You really care about him, don’t you?”
“Sure, so of course I end up hurting him more than anything else.”
“Why are you so hostile to him if you don’t want to hurt him?’
“It’s my nature. I can’t help destroying everything I love, every glimpse of sunshine in my life. I’m the angel of darkness; I ravage all that is beautiful.” I paused and took a deep breath. “Seriously though, I don’t always know why. By being mean to him I kind of forget all my tender feelings for him. To talk to him would be to let all those feelings show themselves. It would be like giving my pain an open invitation to overwhelm me. I don’t want to miss him. I don’t want to remember all the good times and have to realize that they’ll never happen again. I don’t want to love him anymore.
“Every time I see him, all these emotions are conjured up and it just burns inside me. Then I try to push him away so that my feelings won’t torture me anymore. I know I hurt him by doing that; I hurt me too. But I just can’t deal with all the pain right now.” I looked down at the floor and kicked at the bedpost dejectedly. “I always did try to make him share my pain. In a way, this is just an extension of how I screwed up our relationship. I know I’m a selfish bitch.”
“I wouldn’t say that, but I think there’s more going on here. In a way I think you’re trying to make him feel bad so that he’ll see how much he’s hurt you. You’re trying to make him feel guilty so that he’ll regret his decision.”
“You’re quite the psychology expert today, huh? You’re probably right. In my own weird, twisted manner, I’m trying to get him back. But my tactics aren’t the greatest, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. I’m only pushing him farther away.”
I got up from my bed and began pacing. I walked over to the huge mirror. My hair looked stringy and listless as usual. My eyes, of course, were dull as ever. “He’d never want me back with my repulsive appearance anyway,” I added hastily.
“Stop it,” Ray Ann replied, annoyed. She hated it when I put myself down, which only encouraged me to do it even more.
“Oh come on, neither of us are blind. I’m far from being a fashion model.”
“Looks don’t really mean anything. Think about Pammy. She’s probably one of the prettiest girls at Learning Lab. I’d give anything to look like her, but the way she acts makes most people sick.”
“So you’re not denying the fact that I’m drop-dead ugly?”
“Oh get off it, you know what I mean!”
“I know.” I smiled.
“Now, let’s go to the living room. I want to see the celestial world.”
“One thing, could you at least try to be civil to him?”
“I’ll try but I can’t promise.” I grinned. “Hey Ray Ann?”
“One thing, even if you did look like Pammy, I still wouldn’t sleep with you!” We both laughed.
We went to the living room to stare out from the large window. To my surprise, everyone except for Todd, who was nowhere in sight, was already gathered around the window, gazing intently at the heavens. Had it really taken us that long to unpack? I didn’t think so. Then again, I was sure that none of the others had had quite the riveting discussion that Ray Ann and I did.
I joined the others in their observation. For the first few moments, a flawless ocean of black was all I saw. Then a star appeared. It illuminated the window and sprinkled its iridescence all about. But in the next second, it was gone. I was reminded just how advanced our technology was, even if it would take us two entire days to reach Isadrine.
I remembered something I’d once learned from InfoMaster. It wasn’t all that long ago that humans hadn’t had the ability to travel very fast at all. The most they hoped for was the speed of light, and even then it would have taken them over four years to reach Proxima Centauri, the nearest neighbor to our Solar System. That would be a very long ride.
I pushed my hair behind my ear and simultaneously pushed my thoughts away. I didn’t want to dwell on the bleak past when I was in the superior present, especially since I didn’t completely understand what I was thinking about.
“Hey,” Seth cooed. “It looks like the cutest girl has decided to join us.” He had noticed this a tad late. He came over to stand by me and put his arm around my shoulders, which I promptly shrugged off.
“Shut up,” Melissa said curtly. “We’re trying to watch the stars here.”
“I’m watching the stars-the ones in her eyes, at least.” He brought his face close to mine to look into my eyes.
I shoved him away gently. “My eyes don’t sparkle. They don’t even shine,” I told him. “And I’m not cute, either.”
“Of course you are. Why else would I chase after you?”
“Because you’re in dire need of mental help,” I replied at the exact same time that Ray Ann said, “You’re trying to compete with me, that’s why.”
“Ray Ann, let’s not even go there. I could beat you in ant contest. In fact, I can do everything you can do, but better.”
“Yeah? Well, I’d like to see you have children.”
Seth looked startled, but threw the comment off without responding. He turned to me. “I think you may be right. I am crazy. I’m crazy for you.” He gave me his sweetest smile.
“Oh brother,” I muttered. “You’re so corny.”
“Could you please be quiet? I already asked you once,” Melissa cut in, visibly agitated.
“Haven’t you already seen this before?” Ray Ann asked. “I mean, this must be routine by now, right?”
“Sure, I guess. But-”
Melissa was interrupted by Seth, who had walked over to her. He rested his elbow on her shoulder. I could see her whole body tense as he did so. He looked down at her. “You sure are saucy today, aren’t you?”
“Saucy?” Pammy asked, laughing. “That word is so old, Seth. Get with it!”
“I meant saucy as in hot and spicy,” Seth explained, defending himself.
“If that was your idea of a pick-up line, then I suggest you use another dating manual,” Arden said teasingly.
“No, not at all,” Seth replied, obviously being facetious. “I wouldn’t do that. Josie’s the only one I try to pick up.” Melissa pushed Seth off of her shoulder.
Ray Ann laughed. “Seth, I’m sorry if you haven’t noticed, but I really don’t think Josie’s interested.”
“Really?” he asked sarcastically. “I never would have guessed.” He pretended to cry. “Nobody wants me. Nobody loves me,” he pouted.
“All the felines want me,” John boasted. “They want me so bad that it’s not even funny.” I had to conceal a chuckle.
“Could you teach me some tricks, O wonderful master?” Seth asked with mock admiration.
“No way, Dane. I wouldn’t want you stepping on my territory.”
“Just be yourself,” Arden advised.
“I try being myself, but she just doesn’t want me,” Seth moaned. “Oh Josie, what do I have to do to please you? I’d do anything!” He crumpled to the floor at my feet in a dramatic collapse. “The agony is killing me!” he moaned.
I laughed and kicked him playfully, motioning for him to get up. “He’s such a character,” I said, turning to Pammy on my right.
“He’s charming,” she agreed.
“What about me?”
“Of course you’re charming, John. You’re the best guy around.” She leaned over and began kissing him.
“You’re making me sick<” I muttered, then turned away from the window and left the group. It wasn’t like any of us were actually paying attention to anything outside anymore, anyway. There was too much drama inside the ship to concern ourselves with. I plopped myself down on a couch facing the ITV.
As always, when I am by myself, I began to think. Arden sure did know what he was talking about when he gave dating advice. He’d had me hooked in the span of about fifteen minutes, just by being his dynamite self. My mind drifted back to the first time we’d talked.
He ran into me, literally, on our first day of the quarter we’d just completed. He was running late and hadn’t been paying attention to where he was going in his rush to get to his first session on time. He’d crashed into me with full force, knocking me onto the floor.
He’d looked at me sheepishly and offered me his hand to help me up. I’d refused to take it. “You’re a klutz. How do I know that you won’t just make me fall again?” I asked, as I got up without his assistance.
“I’m sorry. I was in a rush and I didn’t see you. I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“I’m really sorry. Are you seriously mad?”
“Of course. Now my hair’s all messed up.”
He looked really upset, and worried. I smiled. “I’m only joking. My hair was messed up before I fell.”
“It looks fine to me.”
“You must be blind.”
“Maybe. On my way into the building, I ran into a wall by accident.”
“No. I’m just messing around. Seriously though, your hair looks very nice.”
“You don’t have to lie to me.”
“I wouldn’t do that.”
“You’re too nice.”
“Not at all. I’m really quite cruel.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Oh yeah? What if I told you that I knocked you over on purpose, just for thrills?”
“I’d ask you what the hell was wrong with you.”
“Well, see, I always wanted to talk to you, but I didn’t know how to start a conversation. I decided I’d run into you in a last-ditch effort to get your attention and see what happened from there.”
“You’re so full of it,” I told him. He has really nice eyes, I thought.
“So what? So are you.”
“Come on, you know it. You’re the one who said I messed up your hair when you knew perfectly well that you did that yourself.”
“You just said my hair looked nice.”
“Yeah, but I’m full of it, remember?” He laughed.
“So which one was the truth?”
“You don’t actually care about what I think of your hair, do you?”
“Of course not. I don’t really care much about what you think of anything.” Come on, just tell me, I thought.
“Perhaps I don’t think at all,” he replied. Then with a wave, he left. He was headed for history sessions in the Past-Lab Wing. Unfortunately I couldn’t go with him. It was a science day for me.
I stared after him longingly. Strange as it may sound, just from our little interchange, I’d already fallen head-over-heals in love with him. I’d known who he was for years, but that was all. I saw so much more about him in that brief meeting. He had a great sense of humor, always a key component. At the same time I saw that he could be serious, and also sweet and gentle. Not to mention he had an infectious smile. I’d never really noticed his sexy body before, or how smooth his skin looked, or the depth of his eyes, their tenderness.
Needless to say, both of us were very late to sessions. I got quite a lecture from my friend in the blue shirt, but I hadn’t minded a bit. Nothing like that matters when you’ve just fallen in love. I was already dreaming of a wedding with Arden, and how we’d live happily ever after together.
Now, of course, I knew it was only that-a dream. I still hadn’t gotten over any of the pain of waking up to the excruciating reality.
Not wanting to wallow in such poignant memories, I pushed my thoughts away. I sat up straight. “Interactive Television start,” I commanded.
A thin blonde appeared on the screen. “What would you like to see?” she asked in a patronizing tone.
“Male models,” I responded. I hoped Arden heard that. I hoped he was jealous.
“One moment,” the woman replied in her sugar-coated voice. Soon a line of luscious men were parading across the screen, much to my delight. They were advertising all different types of clothes, but that stuff didn’t matter to me; it was only for people who cared about being trendy. I just stared at their handsome faces. It was delicious eye-candy.
“Ooh, that one’s real sexy,” I said loudly. “Just look at his perfect hair!”
Soon the others came over to see what I was gawking about. They all took seats, except John. “I should be on this show. I can walk the walk.” He began to strut his stuff in front of us, imitating the guys on ITV. “I’ll have all the felines chasing after me.”
John continued to “walk the walk,” but he was trying just a little too hard. “Hey John, is there something wrong? It looks you’re waddling to the bathroom with a load in your pants!” I called out, trying to hide the laughter; I wouldn’t want to insult John’s swollen ego or anything. Now that would be a sin punishable by death.
John was paying too much attention to the men he was mimicking on ITV to even answer. Suddenly, his foot got caught on the leg of a coffee table he was oblivious to. He fell and landed in a heap on the ground.
“Interactive Television end,” I said through giggles. The ITV went blank immediately.
“You looked real natural up there,” Arden told John jokingly.
“Oh, shut up. You’re not perfect either,” he retorted angrily.
“Never said I was,” Arden replied lightly.
“You sure seem to think so.”
“Oh boy,” Seth groaned. “I sense resentment within the group. It’ll sure be a fun night tonight.” John just glared at him.
“Not for me,” Ray Ann said.
“What?!” Arden asked, acting shocked. “You two aren’t getting it on anymore? Did Hell freeze over?”
“Something to that effect.” They were the first civil words I’d spoken to him since he’d broken my heart. I guess one always has to start somewhere.
John got up from his little accident and took a seat on the nearest chair. He slumped down. “This spaceship is retarded, anyway,” he said.
“Just because you can’t be a male model, the spaceship is now stupid?” Ray Ann inquired.
“No one said that I can’t be a male model!” he shot back indignantly, sitting upright. “I’ve got the look. I’ve got the style. My smile is just right. I wear the best clothes and everything. I’m perfect for the job. I mean, I study this stuff! I’m an expert.”
“Yup, you’ve got everything-except the coordination!” Seth quipped, smiling.
“Oh, be quiet. I’m sure you couldn’t be a model if your life depended on it.”
Seth snorted. “I have no interest. I wouldn’t want to model if my life depended on it.”
“That’s because you know everyone would laugh at you.”
“No, it’s because I have no desire to parade around in trendy clothes, trying to brainwash the masses into surrendering their individuality for a little false admiration, for the sheer purpose of popularity.”
“You’re being mean,” Pammy whined.
“You go Seth! That was great,” I commended him at the same time.
“Great enough to get an award like-?” Seth started to ask, but was cut off.
“My admiration’s not false!” John exclaimed after letting Seth’s words sink in. “Everyone really, truly, does admire me! Just look at how many people dress like me and talk like me. Let’s see how many felines I take out each week. Let’s see-”
“Hey!” Pammy cried. “I thought yesterday you said I was your one and only!”
“I was talking about before you started going out with me,” John reassured her patiently in a tone that definitely wouldn’t have reassured me.
“Oh, okay,” Pammy said, now content and smiling again.
“Well, of course they still try. Every feline knows I’m the hottest date they could ever dream of. Everyone knows that to be cool, they must copy me.”
“Hence the words ‘false admiration,'” Seth muttered. John didn’t hear him.
“You just wish you all could be as respected as I am,” John continued boasting. I could just hear his ego expanding by the moment. In a few minutes I was afraid it might envelope the entire room.
“I’m sure we do. That’s our dream,” Arden replied sarcastically.
“Your dream is probably to grow up to be the perfect citizen who never does anything wrong, and who’s always obeyed his mother.”
“It’s not, but if it were, it’d be about as useful as a dream of being insincere jerk all my life,” Arden replied.
“Don’t you dare say that about John!” Pammy growled. She set her jaw and put a fierce look on her face. “I’ll beat the crap out of you if you don’t stop mocking him.” John gave her a grateful smile. The rest of us laughed tentatively.
“Anyway,” John continued, “I still think the ship sucks.”
“Why?” I asked, remembering how he’d changed the subject before.
“I prefer to travel with people of the same caliber as me, the same status, shall we say.”
“You mean you prefer to associate with the people who follow you around like puppies,” I corrected him.
“Then why did you come?” Arden asked diplomatically.
“How would it look if I didn’t show up for what will definitely be the most exciting event of the year? Maybe even the decade?”
“I think it’d look like a miracle,” Seth said under his breath.
“Besides,” Pammy put in on John’s behalf, “he is the coolest and most admirable person in the crew. Just think about how his status would degenerate if he wasn’t here.”
Ray Ann leaned over to me and whispered, “Oh my God, she actually used a big word. She must’ve forgotten to act dumb for a second there.”
“She hasn’t forgotten how to be clingy, though,” I whispered back.
“Exactly! Thanks, babe,” John agreed. “And some people think they’re better than everyone just because they’re spoiled brats with spaceships to play with and clothes no else can afford. But they’re no better than anyone.”
“Neither are you,” Seth retorted.
“I never said I was better than anyone,” Melissa said softly. She looked like she was about to cry.
“Oh yeah? Then why do you parade around in those ritzy clothes, acting like you’re superior to everyone?”
“Hey, leave her alone,” Seth protested.
“You all think you’re better than everyone. Josie thinks she top dog just because she’s a freak. Melissa’s a rich snob. Arden’s the perfect gentleman. Seth goes so far as to fool himself into thinking he’s the master flirt. You’re all screwed up in the head.”
“And I suppose you’re here to straighten us all out and prove your excellence?” Seth asked.
“Guys! Sop it!” Arden said, standing up. “We came here to have fun, not to fight with one another! Let’s just stop the bickering right now. It’s just about time for dinner anyway.”
“Of course he has to try to be the peacemaker,” John muttered.
It was a comment Arden chose to ignore. “Let’s just keep things light. I’m sure we’ll all enjoy ourselves more that way.”
Hearing his voice still made me ache inside, but in a way I was getting used to it. I began to think we might actually be able to be friends. If not right away, then perhaps sometime in the future. I just had to remember that friends was all we would ever be, and stop thinking that being romantic partners again could be right on the horizon. That was much easier said than done, but it was getting to be less painful to forget my attachment to him and just consider him a normal human being.
I flashed him a smile as he sat down. He smiled back. It practically made me fall for him all over again, but I had to keep my emotions in check.
We proceeded into the cafeteria. Seth, Ray Ann and I took the same table we had for breakfast and lunch earlier that day. Todd actually made an appearance for dinner, but ate quickly and left. Melissa had chosen to sit with Todd and Arden for lunch, but this time she asked to sit at our table. I figured she was alternating between us.
“I wonder how many hours are left until we get there,” I commented, taking a bite of my hamburger. I looked at Melissa, but she was busy sprinkling salad dressing evenly across her salad.
“I don’t think it matters. I mean, this is so much fun that I could stay on this ship forever and not get bored,” Ray Ann said.
“Yeah? Well I’ve heard it doesn’t take much to amuse those with little intelligence,” Seth replied.
“Oh? That must explain why you enjoy your incessant flirting so much,” she shot back.
“Hey! I haven’t made one single come-on since we sat down to dinner!”
“Um, Seth, we just sat down not even two minutes ago,” I pointed out.
“Guys, you don’t have to act different around me, you know,” Melissa said. Her fork was playing a game of cat-and-mouse with her tomatoes.
“What the hell are you talking about?” I asked.
“Well, I mean, I don’t know. I just shouldn’t be sitting here, I guess.”
“Am I missing something?” Seth asked.
“I’m confused,” Ray Ann said.
“Me too.” I agreed. We all turned to Melissa expectantly.
She folded her hands on her lap, then separated them and clenched them into fists. “I feel like I’m bothering you guys. I mean, I barely know any of you at all; who am I to sit here and barge in on your conversations?”
“You’re not barging in,” I told her. “We like having you here.”
“Only because I’m a rich snob with rockets to play with.”
“Oh please Melissa! Don’t listen to John!” Ray Ann exclaimed. He gave her a dirty look from the next table but said nothing.
“Besides,” I added. “Even if you didn’t own a rocket, we’d still want you with us.”
“I bet none of you will even talk to me after this trip.”
“Of course we will,” Seth assured her. She gave him a doubtful look and then proceeded to chase the tomatoes on her plate in silence. I wanted to say more, but she obviously didn’t want to discuss the matter further. I couldn’t understand why she thought we didn’t like her; she was so extremely sweetest and friendly. I guess people just get weird notions like that in their heads sometimes.
A dampered mood dragged over the remainder of dinner. When I finished my food, I silently went to the tray return, dumped my garbage and walked into the living room. It wasn’t long before most of the others came to join me.
“So, uh, what do we do now?” Pammy asked. She was a bit upset because John had chosen to stay in his room for awhile.
“I don’t really know,” Melissa answered carefully. “Space rides get like this sometimes. There isn’t a whole lot to do all the time.”
“Hey, does Todd have to stay in the control room for this entire time?” she asked.
“No,” Melissa answered, looking up from the floor. “He can, but it’s not necessary. There’s this small device that he has. It kinda resembles a video-phone and it has a display that shows him the exact same thing as the big computer screen in there. My mother never used to stay in the control room when she flew us, back when they used to travel shorter distances.”
“Well, then, let’s go get him!”
Melissa was the one who knocked on the door. Todd opened it a crack and stuck his head out. Music from inside the room flooded my ears. “What do you want?” he asked in a low tone. It almost sounded like a growl. Melissa told him of the request for his presence, but he shook his head quickly. “Sorry guys, I’m a bit busy. I’m working on a very important project in here. I really need some piece and quiet.”
“Hey, then, what is this music you’re listening to?” Arden asked with a smile. He’s so adorable, I thought. I was standing right next to him.
“Yeah,” I put in, pushing my way closer to the door. “It’s actually quite, well, it’s beautiful.”
“Oh, it’s this new band that I just discovered. They’re from the early 1990s.”
“Your favorite,” said Melissa.
“Of course. They’re called Alice in Chains. Most of their stuff is heavier than this, more like the usual stuff I listen to, but they’ve got quite a variety. Great band.”
“Hey!” I exclaimed. “I was reading this girl’s diary who used to live in my house when, well about a week ago, and anyway, that was her favorite band! Isn’t that incredible? She said they had a lot of raw emotion, and I hear that. Wow. She saw them in concert a few times.”
“Really?” Todd asked, opening the door a bit more. “I wish we still had concerts like that.”
“You can always go to them in your Virtual Challenge Center,” John pointed out.
“It’s not the same. Do you still have the diary. Could I read it?”
“Not with me, but yeah, after we get back.”
“Can I read it too?” Arden asked. “Stuff like that’s real interesting.”
“Yeah,” Seth agreed. “You should have told us about this before.”
“Ok, once I get home, we’ll have a big diary-reading party.” I hoped the pages weren’t too tearstained or anything. Everyone agreed
“So will you come out and talk to us, Todd?” Ray Ann asked.
“You can listen to whatever music you like,” Arden prompted.
“Oh, I guess I will, if you guys insist, but I won’t bring any music. Wouldn’t want to torture you with my evil harmonies.”
We laughed. After Todd closed a few programs on the computer he joined the rest of in the living room. However, none of us had come up with any brilliant plans to pass the time.
“Hey guys? Do you ever worry about college?” Ray Ann asked. “I mean, none of us really talk about it, but we have only two more quarters until we all leave. Am I the only one who’s scared?”
“No, not at all,” Melissa said. “I’m scared to death.”
“Me too,” I agreed. “I’ve heard that classes are taught by people and they judge your performance. Like, some people pass and others don’t.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard the same,” Seth said. “I wish they would tell us this stuff.”
“Really,” Arden agreed. “How is it fair that one person evaluates fifty students? I don’t get it.”
“I’m worried that college is going to get in the way of my studies,” Todd said quietly. “I prefer to work alone.”
“Don’t any of you worry about leaving your family? And your friends? I mean, people, soon we’re not going to see each other every day like we have for these past twelve years.”
“But there is visiting,” Melissa said. “I don’t think any of us are going too far, and we can visit in an instant. But yeah, I’m scared about that. I’ve lived such a sheltered life that it’s just going to be a complete culture shock.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Pammy said.
“Why not?” Melissa asked.
“Well, I thought about it, and I was going to apply. Really I was, but then it got to be late and I still hadn’t called for an application.” She looked down. “Maybe I’ll apply next year, because I’m just as scared as anyone.”
“What of?” Ray Ann asked. The contempt was obvious in her voice.
“Hey, it’s not for everyone,” Todd replied. “More and more lately, I’ve been thinking of just skipping that and working for one of the A.A.R.C. labs right away, even though I know if I got a college degree, I’d probably get a much better starting position.”
“But, listen, I’m going to be separated from John! I won’t know what to do.”
“You have only been going out with him for three months,” Arden reminded her. “There was life before him.” He turned away and looked to the window. I wished I could know what he was thinking. Was he trying to say something about our relationship with that last comment?
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. But I really care about him, you know? But if he’s away, and we’re still together, he’ll have to tell me how much he misses me every day, right? I never thought of that before. Maybe it’s not all so bad after all!” Ray Ann and I exchanged glances.
“Hey, is anyone else thirsty?” I asked. “I think I’m going to go make some iced tea. Do you have any of that stuff Melissa? Or do I have to order it from Sally?”
“Who’s Sally again?” Todd asked with a smile, pretending to count on his fingers. I laughed.
“No, there’s some mix stuff, in the closet. It’s in the master bedroom.”
“Okay,” I said, turning to leave.
I was stirring the mix and water together in a big pitcher when Arden came in. “It’s been a good day,” he said.
“Yeah,” I agreed, still stirring.
“Josie, can I talk to you? Will you listen to me?” Arden asked.
“Sure,” I said, finally looking up. I was much more ready to talk than I had been before. He walked over to me. He looked like he was going to take my hand or put his hand on my shoulder, but thought better of it. I watched him, and in that moment I felt very vulnerable. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to push the strands of hair that fell in his eyes to the side. I longed to hold his smooth hands, touch his soft skin. I couldn’t speak, though I wanted to know what he wanted to talk to me about.
“Josie, I’ve been thinking,” he began. He stopped and rubbed his eyes.
“That’s always a good thing,” I told him.
He smiled, then shifted his weight from one foot to the other and pushed his hair behind his left ear. It immediately fell across his face again.
“Um, there’s something I wanted to tell you,” he said, then stopped again. He pushed his hair back on the other side and straightened his shirt. “All I’m trying to say is that I still love you and I-”
“Don’t say that!” I yelled. I whirled and ran to my room. I flung the door open, slammed it shut and threw myself on the bed. “Why does he do this to me?” I moaned, pounding the mattress with my fist. “Just when I’m beginning to think we might have a really great friendship one day, he has to go and say something like that! Why does he have to torture me?” Tears streamed down my face, but I didn’t care.
“I don’t think he was trying to hurt you,” Ray Ann said, trying to comfort me.
I stopped for a second. I hadn’t even known she’d been in the room. “Well, he did. I told you how I didn’t want my tender feelings. I meant it. I can’t afford to love him again, but it’s so hard not to. And when he goes and says something like that, it just rips me apart.”
“Did you ever really stop?”
“No, but that’s beside the point. Why do I have to see him? Why does he say things like this? Someone tell me why! I hate this. I hate how I fell, how much I want him, how much it hurts. I hate him! Will it ever end?”
“Josie, calm down! You’re completely overreacting to everything these days. Stop flipping out. I know you’re upset over Arden, but you’re taking this too far. There are other people out there.”
“Shut up,” I snapped. “You have no idea what you’re talking about! Since when have you lost a true love? Don’t give me that ‘there will be another guy’ bullshit, because it’s not true and it never will be.”
“Well, it’s not the end of the world, you know.”
“Oh, stop trying to cheer me up when you have absolute no idea how horrible I feel. Once you’re in the same pit of agony and despair then you can tell me it’s not the end of the world.”
“I’m only trying to help.”
“Look, I’m not going to take this. It’s ridiculous. What do you want me to do? I can’t fix anything for you, and you’re not listening to reason. And I’m sorry that you seem to be expect me to be just as upset as you are, because I’m not going to be.”
“And I’m sorry you’re so insensitive,” I replied.
“That’s it! I am going to move my stuff into Pammy and Melissa’s room. Wallow in your misery all you want; you seem to enjoy it well enough.”
“You go do that,” I said, staring at the wall. She climbed on the top bunk and retrieved her mattress. Then she gathered all her belongs and walked out, letting the door close loudly behind her.
“Bitch,” I muttered.
I kept staring for a long while, trying not to think. One thing was for sure: I wasn’t going to cry. I wasn’t going to say another word. If that’s the way they all wanted it, they could have it. I would morn in silence. I thought about rejoining them, but I wasn’t in the mood for all of their antics-Seth’s flirting, Pammy’s whining, John’s boasting, any of it. I just wanted to be left alone. I sure as hell didn’t want to burden them with all my pain. Actually, I probably just didn’t want to talk about it, but whatever the reason, I stayed in my bed.
It wasn’t all that late, but sleep seemed a good escape. I turned this way and that, but it never felt comfortable. Finally, another idea struck me. I got up and grabbed my journal. It was time for some poetry!
I wrote for almost two hours, just bleeding on the page. It was great, and I felt the power flow from my fingers to the pen, but it could only last so long. I ended up crying myself to sleep, alone in my chamber.
When I awoke, my pillow was still soggy. With nothing better to do, I decided to get some breakfast. After all, without something to occupy myself, I might start contemplating my melancholy, and that was worse than actually feeling it.
When I arrived in the cafeteria, everyone else was already there. I saw that John and Pammy had pulled up chairs and replaced me at my usual table. I took the hint. Once I got my food I took a seat at an unoccupied one. I set my elbows on the hard surface and rested my chin in my hands, staring at my plate without interest. Didn’t any of them care about how upset I was? Couldn’t they see my sorrow? I tried to make my eyes water, but it seemed the tears had finally ran out. I stirred my food around a bit, but it still didn’t seem appetizing.
And no matter how hard I tried to block it out, I heard snippets of their conversation-Seth hitting on Melissa, Ray Ann teasing him for it, Pammy announcing that her ex had called her the day before she left and told her how much he missed her, John getting annoyed. At the other table Todd and Seth were talking quietly enough so that I couldn’t hear them. I was thankful for small favors.
At one point, my attention perked up. “I think we should go talk to Josie,” Melissa said. “Look how upset she is.”
“No way,” Ray Ann said. “I tried talking to her. She’ll just bite your head off and make you feel like crap for breathing. Besides, she just wants attention. She wants everyone else to feel so sorry for her that they’re upset as she is.”
“Yeah, my stunning sense of humor will be shoved back at me,” Seth agreed.
“What sense of humor?” Ray Ann asked with a smile.
“If you say so,” Melissa replied doubtfully.”
What nice friends I have, I thought. None of them care. I bet if I just disappeared off the face of the Earth, or the spaceship for that matter, they would hardly notice. They’d be back to their usual banter after two minutes.
With that thought in mind, I got up to return the tray of food I hadn’t touched. On impulse, when I just happened to pass Arden, I took my glass of orange juice and dumped it on his head. It splashed all over his perfectly neat shirt and pants, and splattered over his french toast. I smiled with satisfaction and continued on my way to the tray return.
Arden jumped up and stepped back from his plate, sputtering. “Don’t you think this is getting to be just a bit childish?” he demanded angrily.
“Probably.” I shrugged.
“Haven’t you harassed me enough already?”
“I’m only beginning,” I said.
“Whatever,” he answered, turning away. “I’m sick of this. You never let me explain. I always end up looking like the bad guy when-”
“Then for once in life there’s nothing more than meets the eye,” I replied. He gave me an exasperated sigh and trudged out of the room, his clothes still dripping with juice. I stared after him for a long time, until finally it occurred to me that I should clean up the mess. After all, it was Melissa’s rocket, and she was the only one who seemed to give a damn. Sheepishly, I went to the closet where I’d gotten the iced tea the previous night, and retrieved a Handy Dandy Mopper. In seconds, the floor was clean and I could return my tray happily.
I went to the living room and sat by the window. Melissa was the first to come over. “Josie, I want to help. What can I do?”
I contemplated a sarcastic answer, but ended up saying, “I don’t think there’s anything that can heal this wound. I can’t deal with this.”
“Yes you can,” Ray Ann said sternly, entering the room with the rest of the group.
“Yeah, with a gun to my head perhaps.”
“Guns are so old. Why not use a shanderbeam instead?” Pammy asked.
“All right, so I’m not up with the popular weapons of choice, so take me to court over it. Besides, where the hell am I supposed to get a shanderbeam? You can’t even order those over the computer without thirty special codes. My mom has a gun, for protection she says. I bet she really has it handy in case my dad and Carol ever decide to drop by. That situation is a whole other story. My life is a mess. I can’t handle it anymore. So when I go home, I can use the old-fashioned gun and you can write something on my tombstone about my lack of style and class.”
“Stop that,” Seth said.
“You’re really scaring me,” Melissa agreed.
I climbed up to the ledge of the window. In a voice of deadly calm I said, “Maybe I should just cut the suspense and jump right now.”
“That’s not a smart idea,” Seth told me. “I may not know the most about science, but I do know that if you open or break that window, everything from inside the ship will be sucked out because of the pressure change.”
“Sounds cool,” I said, still perched on the sill.
“Not to me,” Ray Ann said.
“Yeah, we don’t all want to die just because you have PMS,” John concurred.
“I do not!” I yelled. “My life is ruined and you’re making jokes about it?” I was close to hysteria, if not there already.
“Stop it!” Ray Ann screamed. “Your life is not ruined, Josie. These hard times will pass. Give things time.”
I snorted. “Yeah, I’ve been telling that myself forever, and look where I am now.”
- Driving Blind Under a Desert Moon
- A Star is Born
- The Perfect Couple
- Remember When (lexysylviahudson.wordpress.com)