Chapter 16: Answer
The strap of my backpack was painfully digging into my shoulder again as I dragged my feet along the abandoned school hallway. It was hard to believe that a backpack lacking any textbooks could be so heavy. The weight was actually causing my usual slouching to worsen, and as a result, my gaze couldn't lift far above the floor. Consequently, my only view was of my Converse sneakers. My left shoe was the more noticeable of the pair since it contained the newly written phrase "I won't write it off" in big, black letters. The ink was barely dry but it felt as if those words had always been there. I kept forgetting that I had only written them the period before.
The Ataris album that I was currently listening to, from which the newly written phrase had originated, was dwindling down to its last song. My head was unconsciously nodding along to the beat in my ears. The volume was as loud as it could go, so all I could hear were guitar riffs, drums, and Kris Roe's vocals. I just wanted to drown out all the distractions around me.
I was about to round the corner, when suddenly, despite the loudness of the song, I heard somebody call out my name. I figured I was hearing things since I had been listening to my iPod at unsafe volumes all week; the noise had probably finally affected my hearing. But then I heard it again so I knew I wasn't being delusional. I continued onward nonetheless, ignoring whoever was trying to get my attention. I just wanted to get to my destination without any confrontations.
"Hey, Cassie!" the person said once more. It was very distinct this time, so I finally recognized the voice.
My stomach gave a jolt.
I lowered my head further and quickened my pace down the hallway. The corner was only a few feet away.
"Yo, Cassandra Anderson!" the person yelled.
My breathing ceased as I felt her grab my arm. I stopped in my tracks and clenched my teeth, knowing there was no way I could escape. I reluctantly turned around.
"Oh, uh, hey, Alex," I said with a forced smile.
It was the first time I had looked directly at her all week. I noticed how the red streak in her hair was fading. The color was turning orange and losing its brightness.
"Hey," she replied. She let go of my arm and let her own fall to the side. "Didn't you hear me?"
"No, sorry," I said as I dropped my gaze.
There was an awkward silence. She was about to say something else when I hastily turned my iPod off and showed it to her for an explanation.
She got this look of realization on her face and said, "Oh."
For a second I thought she would cease pestering me. But then she started to watch me suspiciously. I prayed she wouldn't say what was on her mind. Alex, like most artists, was too perceptive for her own good.
"Was that really it though?" she asked, much to my displeasure. "You kinda seemed like you heard me."
I paused, not knowing the best way to respond. "What?" I said eventually, trying to present the fabrication of confusion. My attempt failed since my pause was too long.
She sighed, indicating she had noticed my hesitation. "Cassie, you've been avoiding me."
I forced my gaze back upon her in order to conceal guilt. "What?" I said again, feigning surprise. I pushed the corners of my mouth upward for extra effect and shook my head. "No, I haven't."
She rolled her eyes and smirked slightly. "Give me a break. I'm not stupid."
My forged smile faded as I started to feel guilty. I could tell Alex had been hurt by my actions. But I didn't say anything in response because I didn't want to face her and the rest of my problems. So, I merely bit my lip, wishing I could run away.
Alex's expression became serious as she said, "Yeah, at first I thought maybe you were still pissed off at me about the whole Tim thing…but now I think I get it." She paused. "Look, I know something happened with you and my brother."
I almost had a heart attack at the mention of that individual.
"He won't talk about it but I know you guys had some kind of fight or something on your birthday," she continued. My heart rate lessened. I was relieved he hadn't told her about what had really occurred. "But whatever happened, you don't have to avoid me just because you're mad at him, okay? I mean, come on, Cassie." She gave me a small smile. "Who the hell else am I going to talk to in art?"
I smiled slightly in return and nodded hastily. "Yeah, okay. Sorry."
My gaze fell to the floor again. My shoulder was throbbing with pain, so I shifted the position of the backpack strap in order to reduce it.
"It's just…It's been weird," I said softly.
I look up at Alex, and we briefly shared an empathetic gaze before I broke it and stared down at the floor once more. I shifted my weight onto one leg, wishing I hadn't spoken the truth.
"Well, uh, I gotta go," I said rapidly.
I was about to turn around and run away when she grabbed my arm.
"Hey, hold on."
I clenched my teeth again. I needed to leave.
Alex placed her backpack on the floor and looked through it as I waited impatiently beside her. After a brief search, she pulled out a CD and then easily placed the backpack to its original position on her shoulders. The bag was so light her posture remained the same.
"I think you could use this," she said, holding the CD out to me.
I lifted an eyebrow and hesitantly took the object from her. I gazed at the cover. "Elliot Smith?" I looked up at her cynically. "As in that guy who killed himself?"
She smiled. "Just trust me."
"Okay," I replied, carelessly placing the album in my already heavy backpack. I stood there for a second longer in awkwardness as I cracked my knuckles impatiently. I was getting edgy. I just had to leave already.
"Well, uh, like I said, I have to go," I told her.
Alex gave a small sigh, as if saying I was being my typical self. "Yeah, okay."
"Bye," I said, without looking at her. I sprinted down the hallway, finally fulfilling my wish of a quick departure.
Halfway to my destination, I started to think about how rude I had just been. But even though I knew I shouldn't be avoiding Alex, I didn't know what else to do. Everything had been so awkward since my birthday. I mean, just about every one of my friendships had come to an abrupt end.
You see, Melissa and I hadn't spoken since that night. Actually, the two of us were avoiding each other at all costs. For instance, we were sitting on opposite sides of the room during Euro, I wasn't eating lunch in the cafeteria anymore, and I had even been cutting chemistry. So, I doubted our relationship was going to be mended anytime soon.
But the tension between me and Melissa didn't even compare to the awkwardness I felt around Josh. At least I could glare at Melissa occasionally; I hadn't even looked directly at Josh. The first day back at school he had attempted to talk to me a few times, but I had managed to run away before he even had the chance to open his mouth. I guess he felt humiliated by the whole situation, so he was now avoiding me as well.
The only person I was still talking to was Abby. As usual she kept trying to be the mediator and get us all to talk to each other. Clearly she had failed so far. She was also trying to get me to tell her why I was mad at Josh. I refused to comply though. I had vowed to never tell another being about what had happened between us that night.
I arrived in the library and headed towards the table Abby was located at. She was sitting alone, with a stack of books near her. Her hair was in a messy ponytail, and she had this weary look in her eyes.
"Hey," I greeted her.
"Hey," she said, giving me a sad smile. The tension between all of us was finally getting to her.
She held out a handful of papers. "Here are the chem notes."
"Thanks." I took them from her and started copying the words down in my notebook.
"So, how much longer are you going to do this?" Abby asked, as she leaned back in her chair and folded her arms.
That was a good question. I mean, it was only a matter of time until my chemistry teacher finally noticed I had been skipping his class. I figured I would continue cutting until either I got detention or my guidance counselor contacted me. That would probably be just a few more days.
"Doing what?" I replied.
A smirk full of annoyance played on Abby's lips. "Oh, I don't know…Stealing my notes so you can continue to cut class in order to avoid Melissa."
My pen stopped gliding along the paper from surprise. Abby wasn't usually that blunt.
I hesitantly looked up at her and paused. "It's not that simple."
She stared at me sternly, the light glinting off the edges of her glasses. "Don't give me that crap, Cass. It is that simple. Just talk to her. I mean, you're going to have to eventually."
"No, I don't," I said, looking down at the notes again.
"Oh, come on. This is ridicules now."
"It's not ridicules to me," I responded as my anger rose.
"No," I interrupted firmly. I looked into my friend's eyes. "What she said…you have no idea how much that hurt. I mean, she was one the one person that I could rely on and…" I trailed off as my eyes stung slightly. I bit my lip in order to get a grip on myself. I had been acting too much like an emotional wreck lately. "And she used everything I've ever said against me. She made me feel like a freak. I never want to talk to her again."
I stared down at the paper and continued writing.
"And what about Josh?"
The pen fumbled out of my hand. "What aboutJosh?" I asked, attempting to sound casual despite my blunder.
I felt Abby's gaze drift from the pen back onto me. "When are you going to talk to him?"
"Probably never too," I said as I grabbed the pen and carried on scribbling.
"Cassie…you haven't even mentioned him."
A chemical bond is a force of attraction that occurs between atoms. These bonds form and break during chemical reactions, I wrote.
"So?" I said.
"So? So, you've ranted about Melissa and told me what a bitch she is yet you won't talk about Josh, and he won't mention you whenever I'm with him either. What happened?"
Molecules have particular shapes and polarity based on several factors. Unshared election pairs and shared election pairs repel each other to angles which keep them as far from each other as possible.
She sighed. "Why can't you just tell me what happened?"
I ignored her and kept on copying.
"Fine," she said, annoyed. She started collecting her books.
I looked up in confusion. "Where are you going?"
"I'm going to the talk to Mrs. Marques about my article."
"Can't you do that later?"
"No because I'm sick of this," she snapped as she started to place her books in her backpack. "I'm tired of being the negotiator for all of you. It's only been a week and you guys have already been driving me crazy."
She forcibly zipped up her bag and then focused on me. "I can't mention you when I'm with Melissa, I can't say anything about Melissa when I'm with you, I can't have a normal lunch in the cafeteria anymore because Josh and Melissa just sit there in silence as I attempt to start a conversation, and you and Josh won't even tell me why you're mad at each other. I'm just sick of it. I am not going to try to solve this thing for all you guys anymore." She slung her lightweight backpack over her shoulder. "Come and find me when you're ready to actually work this out."
She started walking away.
"Abby, wait," I pleaded.
She ignored me and left the library.
I sighed loudly as I stared out the window at the frostbitten lawns of Long Island. I was so sick of the cold. Spring needed to come.
"Hey, uh, I think Donnie Darko is on TV later. Want to check it out?" Ryan said.
I raised an eyebrow and slowly turned toward him. He had never asked me to watch TV with him in my life. Actually, I don't think Ryan had ever even watched television period.
"Umm, I got homework to do. Sorry."
"Oh…okay," he replied, sounding disappointed.
I leaned back in my chair, trying to absorb the Simon and Garfunkel music that was filling the car.
I sighed. All I wanted was a peaceful car ride filled with the sounds of Simon and Garfunkel. Why was that so much to ask for? I mean, the song was called "The Sound of Silence" for a reason.
"Yeah?" I said, hardly concealing annoyance.
I grinded my teeth. I did not want to talk about my feelings. "Yeah, I'm fine," I said, once again poorly covering irritation.
"Well…you've just seemed kind of out of it lately. You've been like…" He smirked. "Quiet."
"So?" I responded, repressing a sigh.
"So, it's not normal for you." He smirked again and said jokingly, "I mean, you haven't called me an asshole all week."
I rolled my eyes. "Well, enjoy it then, Ryan. Nothing's wrong so can you please leave me along and let me enjoy Simon and Garfunkel in peace?"
He paused as the smirk faded. "Alright, fine."
I sensed some anger in his tone. But I didn't care. Everyone else was mad at me. One more person didn't matter.
We arrived at the house in silence. I headed to my room, turned on iTunes, and decided I was in the mood for the Ataris again. I sighed for the millionth time as I flopped on my bed and stared at the ceiling. I just lay there for a moment, listening.
"I sat and thought the other day how it seems strange
That we could walk through life so blind
And how a lot of people never change.
I'm not trying to say I have the answer
All I know for sure is that we weren't put here
To serve ourselves, that's so selfish
To think that we're put on this earth just for pleasure
I know that there's much more than that.
But I won't tell you what it is; it's up to you
To decide for yourself what is wrong and what is right
And know that we all make mistakes, there's always time
To turn your life around and change
All the wrong decisions that you've made.
And I promise that I won't settle for less.
I won't write it off."
The album played the last song and finished. The room was filled with the sound of silence. It was weird. I almost missed the noise.
After a few minutes of merely laying on my back, I turned over and grabbed Catcher in the Rye. I desperately needed to get lost in Holden Caulfield's head. However, as I opened the novel, my normal feeling of tranquility did not arrive because on the first page in neat handwriting was a newly written phrase above the opening line If you really want to hear about it, saying, "Like the Ataris song?"
I had almost forgotten that I had leant Josh that book. My heart pained at the thought of it, and I flung the novel across the room. Catcher was tainted for me.
Man, I felt like such a drama queen.
I put my head in my hands from frustration. I was just sick of it. I was sick of everything. I was sick of being overdramatic, of seeing Melissa in the hallway, of hurting all of my friends, of hurting myself…and most of all…of the fact that I missed him.
I was just sick of it. I had to get away from it all. I just had to leave. Then I realized something. What the hell was stopping me? Why couldn't I just get up and leave? What was keeping me here? Nothing. That's what I concluded. Nothing and no one. No one at all.
I got off my bed, grabbed some cash, and put on my jacket, not knowing where the hell I was going to go. My destination didn't matter though. I was leaving, and going somewhere was better than going nowhere.
My stomach churned as I took that giant step outside my room and heard the door click behind me. I started to breathe heavily. So this was it. I was leaving. I was going…somewhere.
I took another step forward but then stopped. I realized I had no system of transportation to get myself to this nameless place. Thoughts flooded my mind and after some heavy thinking I decided that stealing my brother's car was the most logical thing to do…even though I barely knew how to drive. Well, it was better than taking a bus to the train station…The train station…Something about that just didn't seem satisfying to me. I didn't know what. It was as if it couldn't take me far enough. Even though somewhere was better than nowhere it still seemed like I needed to find somewhere better.
Then I realized what had been bugging me all along. It was this place. This crappy planet. This whole place rotted of hell. I absolutely hated everything about it. It made feel like a complete outsider. I didn't belong here just like I hadn't belonged on Carthia. On Carthia I felt like I wasn't good enough but here I felt as if I was too good.
I probably should have just stayed on Carthia. At least it was home. I probably did belong on there but was just too stupid to realize it then. At least everybody sort of had the same morals as me. I mean, on Earth I was the only straightedge person in a relatively round world. Yeah, that sounded cheesy but that was how I felt. You just have no idea how awkward it is to be one in a million. It is fucking hard to find people who don't smoke, drink, do drugs, or have sex. Really, really, really hard. I hated how they always had to talk about it in front of me. And then they made me feel like a freak for not doing it, like I was the last person on the planet. And I probably was…except for Josh and Abby… and sort of Alex except for the sex part but that's not a big deal. Even though Melissa usually fit into this category too, she was the only one who made me feel like an outsider.
Well, I'm sorry that I like to have control of my actions, don't enjoy puking, headaches, or paranoia, and don't want to die from cancer or an overdose!
Wow, two years of suppressed anger just came out right there.
Whatever. I may not be leaving this shit hole of a planet just yet, but I was definitely leaving this shit hole of a town.
I headed to the kitchen to steal my brother's car keys and finally leave. On my way there, my mind flooded with a lot of memories, not of Earth though. I thought about Carthia. I thought of Xen and Jaidus and then for a second, I had this strange feeling of nostalgia. For a brief moment in time, I actually missed Carthia. For a second, I believed my true friends had actually been on that planet and not on Earth. And I wanted to go back. I wanted to see who I had left behind. I figured I could set things right this time around and not screw everything up. I wanted a second chance to fit in, but I knew it could never happen. So, my feeling of nostalgia quickly passed and I entered the kitchen.
But then something happened. When I entered the room, I witnessed the most peculiar sight I had ever seen. My parents were there with Ryan. I mean, they were just, like, sitting there. Not working. During the afternoon.
It was weird.
"Uh…hi," I said, totally confused.
They all turned around and faced me.
"Oh, Cassie, we were just about to get you," my mother said.
My eyebrows rose further. "Really?"
"Yes," my father said curtly. "We were just done explaining the situation to your brother."
I looked over at my recently mentioned sibling for confirmation that I wasn't hallucinating, but he just sat there, acting as if hell hadn't just froze over. I really hated him at times like these.
My father cleared his throat. "Cassandra-"
"Don't call me Cassandra," I demanded.
He looked at me momentarily, surprised at my tone. I was just surprised as he was. I had no idea where that random hostility had come from. Well, I knew where it had come from, but I was just surprised that I had allowed it to come so clearly up to the surface.
"Well, I am terribly sorry for calling you by your name," he said angrily. He glared at me, refusing to reveal his original intention.
My mother looked at both of us, knowing she would have to say it now. "Cassie, you're father and I are going back to Carthia for a few days."
My heart stopped. I turned toward her with raised eyebrows. I didn't believe it.
"We have a conference to go to," my father responded, regaining control of the situation. "We have to send in our reports. It's a routine matter. However, we are going to be gone for two or three weeks. So, you're going to have to stay home alone with your brother."
I continued to look at them in amazement. It couldn't be true. It just couldn't. There was no way I had just heard the greatest news of my entire life. It was impossible. I took a seat, not being able to fathom the gift that I had just received.
My parents were going back to Carthia, the place I had just felt nostalgic for. They were going back home. Oh my mother-fucking god.
This had to be fate. Not that I believed in fate or anything. I mean, I was fucking agnostic. I didn't believe in anything for sure. But I knew that if there was such a thing as fate, this had to be it. The universe had to be telling me something.
"Is there a problem with that?" my father asked, misinterpreting my reaction. As usual.
I turned to him as my lips slowly formed a grin. "I, um-" I cleared my throat. "I was wondering if maybe I could…" I gulped. "Well…go with you."
Now it was my parents' turn to stare on in confusion.
"Excuse me?" my father asked eventually.
My heart was pounding from nervousness. "I want to go."
They paused again. "Why?" my mother asked, as my father was opening his mouth to reply.
"Well…I haven't been home in so long and I just…" I bit my lip. "Please. I need to see everyone again. I need to get out of here."
"There is no way you are going to miss that much school," my father said.
"Well…I don't have to stay the entire time and if I do then we can just pretend that I had the flu or something."
My parents exchanged looks. I wasn't sure if they were going for it.
"Look, I haven't missed a day of school since eighth grade. It's not a big deal. It's not like I have to worry about catching up. I know all the stuff they're teaching us, so it won't be a problem when I get back.
I was totally lying of course. I actually was never planning on ever coming back.
"Please," I begged.
My father paused, obviously having an inner battle within him. "Very well," he eventually said.
I let his answer sink in and then smiled. But not one of those fake smiles you do for courtesy. I was genuinely happy, the first time in a long time.
And then I did something extremely weird. Something I still cringe about. I went over to my parents and hugged them. They were surprised by my action and didn't really respond. I didn't care though. I let go of them and headed to my room in total contentment.
I entered my bedroom and stood there, enjoying my moment. I was leaving. But then I realized something. I was leaving Earth forever and leaving everything and everyone behind. My smile faded and I became serious again. I couldn't just leave things so unresolved. I needed to say farewell in some way. There was only one person I wanted to talk to.
"Hello," Abby said.
"Oh, hey. Listen, I'm sorry about before. I was having a bad day and I was just kind of annoyed and-"
"Just forget about it, Abby. That's not why I'm calling."
It was difficult to interrupt her. For some reason, I was actually getting kind of sad.
"Well, what's up?"
I paused. "My parents are going back home for work. Back to, uh, Jersey, and I'm going with them."
"For how long? Do you want me to take notes for you?"
My heart became heavy at her naivety. "Well, uh, that's the thing…I might not be coming back."
I only got sadder as I said these words. I didn't understand why. Just minutes before I had been ecstatic. I guess it was just hard to say goodbye. I still didn't get why though. I mean, I had had no problem with such a task when I was leaving Carthia. But that was a different time and a different situation I guess.
There was a pause. "Wait, what? What are you talking about? Why?"
I sighed. For once, I decided to tell her the truth. She deserved it this time. "Abby, let's face it, I don't belong here. I never have. There was a time when I thought I did but I was wrong. I've been wrong for a long time."
"Cassie, you can't just run away from your problems. Look, if this is about Melissa and Josh- "
"Look, it's just…" As I thought of what to say, my mind filled with memories of the past couple of weeks. I thought of Melissa and the kiss I had shared with Josh. "Things didn't turn out like they were supposed to," I said.
"Well, you stay here and you deal with these things and you set them right, until they turn out like they're supposed to. That's what you're supposed to do, Cassie."
I paused again. I didn't know how to convince her of my logic. It was hard to argue with Abby when she used complete reason.
"Look, you've been a really good friend," I said quickly. "I want to thank you for everything."
I hung up the phone suddenly. I couldn't say goodbye because I knew Abby would have just changed my mind.
I got off my bed to pack my things.
Disclaimer: "Answer" is by the Ataris. I did not write these lyrics.