Chapter 2:

The next morning I'm late for the bus. My mom insists on making me a "healthy" breakfast of Eggo Waffles and microwave bacon. I explain to Sarah Lee that I've decided to be a vegetarian this summer and Eggos make my stomach churn, both of which are true – though the decision to be a vegetarian is kind of last minute. She shakes her head and mutters something about nutrition. I grab an apple on my way out the door.

Luckily, it's okay that I'm late because everyone else is too. Some of the ones that decide to make it look a little green, but the bus driver doesn't seem to care and continues on at breakneck speeds. I feel a little nostalgic as I sit down in a seat at the front. This will be the last time I ever sit in this bus to go to school again, I think with a slight bit of alarm.

There's so many memories locked in this bus. Stacy Campbell puked twice in the back seat way back in grade five, and she was reminded of her 'Campbell's Soup' for years afterwards. The Bellam brothers would always roll joints behind the bus driver's seat because it was the one place she couldn't see all that clearly. I once put a few fire crackers under Tommy Keith's seat for throwing a dodge ball at my face in gym class; he'd wet his pants and never spoke to me again after that. Then there'd been the star couple of Laughlin who were always making out in any seat they could find; we were always amazed as we sat staring at them and timing how long they could kiss without coming up for air. They ran off to Las Vegas last I heard. As I press my fingers onto the dirty glass beside me, I remember how Theo and I met on this very bus.

It was a day when I was still in second grade. I'd liked sitting at the front of the bus. There was something about it that gave me the feeling of being on a slow-moving roller coaster as we drove up and down the mountainous roads to school. I liked to sit and watch the panoramic view of the town as it inched by. I also enjoyed the seat because I could surreptitiously make faces at the pretty girls with pink ribbons, the ones who weren't forced to become walking Pepsi ads due to their wardrobe. A little boy with brown hair sticking up in all directions and rumpled clothes had gotten on with wide grey eyes but a hard set jaw. When I'd made a face at him, he'd looked at me with something like confusion, like he didn't deserve it.

There was something funny about him, the way his face was so grim, so serious and sad. He looked like he needed a friend, and because my friend Naomi happened to be on another bus, I'd decided that he had to be talked to. For this reason, and this reason alone – because I believe myself far too practical for this normally – I said hello, and no other reason at all. I've told Theo that God must have known we'd needed each other, but he likes to blame it on Fate.

"Hi." I'd greeted with all the childish buoyancy I possessed.

He'd stared at my crooked bangs and grin with the missing front tooth for a long minute. "Hi." His voice had been so quiet, I'd almost missed it.

I must not have been all that scary because he'd sat down next to me; it could also have been Ms. Lempsky's angry bark of "We don't have all day, buddy! Get your butt in gear!" In any case, he sat there next to me while I jabbered on about something or other.

"Want some licorice?" he'd interrupted suddenly, holding out the red piece of candy as if I might bite his hand off.

I'd smiled and shrugged, grabbing the string of licorice and shoving half of it in my mouth. "So, what do you think Hell's like?" He'd smiled a little at that, not a grin, just a smile.

Theo rarely grins. His face lights up sometimes when he smiles. It's infrequent, but when he grins – really grins the kind of grin that crinkles the corners of his eyes and sends sparkles out through them – it feels as if nothing can go wrong and everything in the world is okay. I try to create this illusion for us both as often as possible – mostly when I stick my tongue out at him.

In any case that's how it began, our weird friendship. We found it fascinating to watch homemade popsicles melt and ants get fried by magnifying glasses on the sidewalk. Theo introduced me to the Miles Davis Band, Jimmy Hendrix and Bob Marley, music that my mom had frowned upon, but I loved to death. We liked climbing into the cherry tree when a thunder storm hit and running barefoot all over town like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. We liked to catch frogs down by Boney Creek and learn to skateboard, badly. We enjoyed trying to coerce tourists who were just driving through to join our cult, and smirking like loons when they became interested. We'd found all sorts of hiking trails and wild Saskatoon bushes and caves and cliffs and a waterfall… We were adventurers, explorers of the unknown; we still are.

As the bus lurches to a stop I make sure that I thank the bus driver for the last time. She gives me a crooked-toothed smile and pats me on the shoulder telling me that I'll go far in life. I wonder what she means, but I don't ask.

The rest of the day ekes by like watching Mr. Wallows cross the street with his walker. Theo and I have decided that he needs one of those scooter chairs with a motor so we'll have something entertaining to watch as we sit in the park. I wish I have a scooter chair in English so I can bust out early and never have to think or care about it again. Three quarters of the class are missing anyway, but I think Mr. Blane just likes to hear the sound of his own voice boring us to death. I personally find his voice to be too nasally and devoid of anything interesting what-so-ever.

I nod off and wake up every time Mr. Blane's voice jumps with passionate emotion, just loud enough to jolt my senses. He's talking about carpe diem,seizing the day and enjoying every moment of life – a little hypocrisy, I think. Maybe if Mr. Blane liked firecrackers and cherry bombs more, he wouldn't be lecturing us about living. I fight the urge to raise my hand and tell him that we're all dying at this moment, because our bodies are beginning to break down in some form or another. I read that in my science text book while we were watching a movie about sex. The fact would probably just push the envelope and three days from now I'd hear about how Mr. Blane killed himself. I think that there are too many younger students who might find him useful and need to be tortured in the same way I've been this year, so I don't say anything.

I doze and startle awake just in time to hear that we're being let out five whole minutes early – oh, four minutes. My mistake. Blane wants us to hand in our essays as we leave, and make sure that they're facing down. It's probably a good thing; I don't want him spotting my purple ink.

As I place my essay on the cluttered desk, my teacher stops me.

"Miss Sophia Florsheim," he says like he's stating a fact.

"Yes?" I don't like saying 'yeah' anymore; it annoys me.

His face is so white it almost looks yellow, and his cheek bones threaten to break the skin stretched around them. He has this look on his sickly looking face like he's angry or indignant. "I hope I don't see you again next year." He states calmly.

I don't know whether he's serious, but then again, Mr. Blane has never cracked a joke that I know of. He only smiles cynically or with a crazy shine in his eyes. "Okay." I say, and begin to walk away.


I roll my eyes and turn around to see that he's pulling something out from the enormous drawer in his desk. His desk is huge and black and made of metal. When he closes the drawer it creates a hollow clanking sound, like a prison cell door. His great boney white hand holds out to me a small black book, hardcover. I wonder if it's some book about Nihilism.

"You're a writer," he says with a solemn brow as I take the book hesitantly. "I want you to write a book."

I blink at the demand. No one's ever just commanded me to write something other than an essay or a short story before. If he thinks I'll write something with the same theme as The Stranger, he's very mistaken. That book not only made me deeply depressed, but I couldn't find any inspiration for the next month. It's a wonder Albert Camus didn't kill himself, but Mr. Blane told me that he died in a car accident.

"And I don't want to see you again until it's finished, understand?" he continues, his beady dark eyes boring into me as if I've done something wrong. I wonder if he knows it was me who Crazy-glued the Swastika sticker on his chalkboard.

"Yes, sir." I hold the book close to my chest and nod.

I'm the last one out the door, but then, there are only seven students present that day anyway.

The hallways look barren and deserted as only a few students trickle out of the classrooms, having been already dismissed or still stuck in their classes. Even the art on the walls that used to hold such dull fascination in comparison to the bustling halls has been taken down. Theo's metal sculpture is still sitting in one of the cases; he made it out of boredom and the fact that he's failing his art class – big surprise. I kind of like it now that I see it for the twenty-seventh time; or maybe it's just because it's the last day of school and subconsciously I know I'll never see that pile of scrap metal again.

Naomi finds me at my locker, which is only three lockers away from hers. She and I have known each other since Kindergarten when she'd cut my hair for a penny. I don't really remember it all that much, but the condensed version goes something like:

"Hi, I'm Nomi and I got scissors."

"I'm Sophie. Wanna play hair dresser?"

My mom hadn't been as thrilled with it as I had, but Naomi hasn't given up. She put the dreadlocks in my hair, which my mother isn't thrilled with either. I believe her higher calling is to either be the permanent thorn in my mother's side, or a hair dresser, or just both. She says that the chemicals in the hair dye will kill her before she turns forty, and probably give her cancer. For now, she uses her creativity to make her own clothes and research essential oils which she says will cure the world of all diseases. Maybe if she finds a cure for cancer she can be a hairdresser anyway.

"Did you go to the bonfire last night?" she asks as she stuffs old gym clothes and unused pencils into her homemade messenger bag. We've been told to clean out our lockers, but I don't have any intention of doing it, even if Naomi is being the better example. We haven't always seen eye to eye when it comes to following the rules. It's the reason I got detention for planting a stink bomb in assembly while she got voted Events Coordinator.

I shrug and shake my head. "Nope. I wrote a paper for Blane and pretty much butchered the definition of an essay in every way possible." I'm not one to like parties anyway. Unless the music is good, it just seems way too boring and unexciting for my liking. I usually end up getting into pyrotechnics after only an hour, which usually leaves Theo to damage control.

Naomi shrugs, pushing back her light brown curls. "I started on mine last week, but I don't think I fit the criteria he gave us. Do you think he'll even read them?" She's in a different block of English than I am, otherwise it would be far more entertaining.

It's always hard to tell with Mr. Blane. I twist my lips ruefully. "He could be dead by next week."

Naomi laughs and adjusts her long brown skirt with the wooden beads and choppy layers at the ends. She seems so calm and confident all the time, like she knows exactly where her life is heading. It kind of scares me to see someone so organized and goal orientated. I suppose it's why we get along so well. I have no goals, but Naomi always seems to keep me on track of whatever it is I should be doing. She'll be a great motivational speaker or counselor or something one day. Theo says she should make a goal to kill herself before her motivation creates a cult of some kind. I don't know why, but Naomi and Theo don't get along very well. I call it a "civil kindness" that they hang out together once in awhile for my sake, but it's a very rare occurrence.

"Figured out what you're going to do for the summer?" Naomi asks once I close my locker which contains quite a lot of junk for the janitor. I'd consider it an inconsistency of character if I didn't leave anything after all the trouble I've caused throughout the years.

I shrug. "Not really. Theo's going to work, and I was thinking of it. What are you doing?"

Naomi frowns with disapproval at my lack of choices and the fact I don't really want a job. I ignore it when she suddenly gets this glow in her eyes, like she's won first prize in the grade six spelling bee. "I got accepted to Princeton!" she giggles and grins.

I blink as if trying to process that information. "That's…amazing, Nomi. Wow…" A slow whistle proceeds from my mouth and echoes down the corridor. "So…you won't be here this summer then?"

"Come on, Soph', that's all you can think about? This is Princeton here!" Her face is so animated, like those cartoons that Theo and I still watch on Saturday mornings.

Naomi used to preach to me that going to school was for those who wished to fall into the clutches of society and the all around bureaucratic system – or something along those lines. She's somewhat of a goody two shoes, true, but I never pictured her actually going to university or college. I always saw her driving a hippie van across North America and selling herbs and remedies to small towns along the way. She just has that vibe about her. Going to university just doesn't seem like the Nomi I've grown up with.

"As I recall, you weren't too big on university last time we spoke."

The smile fades a little, falters. "Yeah, but…it's one of the most prestigious schools and…well, I want to try it." She's lying. I can always tell she's lying because her sentences trail during some parts while she makes up excuses. When we were little she would cry if she started to tell a lie, but now that she's older she's created better ways of hiding the guilt.

I know that the real reason she's going to "try it" is because her father thinks she'll waste away her life as some destitute homeless woman who isn't self reliant and lives in a trailer park if she doesn't go to university. Both of her parents went to Harvard; her dad is a lawyer, and her mom works in a really tall building with a vague job description. I guess if my parents were willing to shell out thousands for an impressively posh school like Princeton, I might want to try it too.

We drop the topic and head to the café a few blocks away, Bob 'n' Knob's. Naomi talks about a book she read – something about an ugly stepsister – and I tell her about Mr. Ackerman's worm farm. She tells me I can do better than working in dirt with spineless insects. I don't tell her that a worm is an invertebrate, not an insect.

As we sit drinking iced caffeine, I wonder if we'll stay best friends and go shopping at thrift stores forty years down the road. Maybe we'll settle down at the same time and raise our families in the same neighborhood and go to those cheesy book clubs my mom is always talking about. I hope so. I ask Naomi if she thinks so, and she says she hopes so too. I ask her to promise to go skinny dipping with me when we're sixty and she laughs and nods. I've always been intrigued with skinny dipping, but I've never actually done it. I don't think Theo would approve somehow. He's such a square sometimes.

A couple hours later we part and I long board around town until I find Theo sitting on the Catholic Church steps, reading his worn copy of poetry. I love the Catholic Church; it's a very quiet place, all white and picturesque with its tall white steeple and old brass bell; it even has stained glass windows. I used to go there all the time when I was younger.

The Catholic ladies used to think I was "sinful" for wearing T-shirts to church with bright blue and red Pepsi symbols emblazoned on them, or maybe it was because I'd planted a cherry bomb in the lavatory one midnight mass and it'd flooded the back half of the sanctuary. I was sure at the time that they would carry out the wrath of the vengeful God on my destructive soul. Instead, they'd made me go to confession, though I'd never found confession to ever be a kind of punishment. I enjoyed talking with the priest, prodding him with questions like: "If God were alive, would he drink Pepsi or Coke?" or "If God were a cherry bomb, would He blow up and kill us all?" I liked the idea of dying by explosion, with all my body parts and organs flying in different directions, landing on the Catholic ladies' faces; that's how I wanted to die.

After zillions of 'Hail Mary's and the like, the priest made it known that I couldn't just re-enter the confession booth. I hadn't understood why at the time, and I'd told him this. That had probably been the straw that broke the camel's back. He'd told my parents that I was too fixated on death and fire and brimstone instead of what the message of Truth was about. My parents had listened intently, but I knew they were just intrigued by the fact that a 'preacher' had come to talk to them in their Pepsi-deco-ed living room. I'd asked the priest on his way out if my parents would go to Hell for idolizing Pepsi products and being too materialistic. He hadn't answered the question, only suggested that I try another religion, and then he began humming a hymn.

Still though, I like going there sometimes, just to sit in a pew and think about what I don't understand. I don't talk to the priest anymore. He retired anyway, and now there's a new one that has more than a few young ladies in town coming back to church, and I don't think it's because they've felt God's holy call.

"I said goodbye to school today." I say as I sit down next to Theo on the worn wooden steps.

"Hm," Theo replies, though I really shouldn't be surprised. He hates school.

"Yup," I continue, "I said goodbye to the secretary, the teachers, the bus driver… Mr. Blane said he hopes he never sees me again. I don't know if he meant high school, or just in general. I don't think I'm that bad of a student." I don't tell him about my book. I still don't know what to do with the thing.

More silence takes over as Theo flips a page.

I begin twisting my hair. Dreadlocks probably take more time and patience than normal hair. One is constantly twisting and dreading each dreadlock, otherwise the roots go loose and your hair falls apart. At least, that's what Naomi says, and she Googled it. So I've become a slave to my hair in order to ensure that it doesn't fall out. I'll have to shave my head if I ever want to have normal hair, but I don't mind. I think shaving my head will be a really cool experience, when and if I do it. Maybe I'll just grow old with dreadlocks and be some hippie lady that lives in a van and writes about Bohemian villages along the ocean and nature.

There's only one thing that's certain in my life, and that is the fact that I'm going to be a writer. I will. I decided that when I was old enough to hold a pen and could scribble some unintelligible scrawl on Sarah Lee's Five Star agenda. Lois Lane was, and still is, my hero. She was so poised and independent as a writer. I had to be her, only maybe not a journalist, and not obsessed with a super human alien with allergies to green rocks. I've been filling up notebooks since my third grade teacher, Mr. Chapman handed me one and told me to write about anything I wanted.

When I do become a famous writer however, my name will probably become an issue. However trivial, the name Sophia Loren Florshiem will a) not fit on the cover of a book and b) probably create a few misinterpretations to say the least. My parents were quite adamant that they wanted their child to have a famous person's name; it goes with their brand name obsession I suppose. Audrey Hepburn had been the alternative, but Sophia Loren had won out due to the fact that her last name sounded better as a middle name. I don't have too many problems with this. When I'd told Theo my name dilemma, he'd rolled his eyes and said "We'll get to that bridge when we cross it." As if he'll have to cross the bridge with me. He doesn't even use his real name anyway.

When Theo was born his dad wanted to call him George, after a buddy of his in the army, but his mom wanted to call him Theodore, after the president. I don't know why. Neither of them could agree and so Theo's birth certificate now says 'George Theodore', and everyone calls him George, except for his mother and me. His mom calls him Teddy, and I call him Theo just because it suits him better. He's definitely not a George. It must be kind of confusing for him to have three names.

Theo's parents have always been a little detached and odd to me. His mom likes Charlie Chaplin and smokes cigarettes. She used to be one of those girls on TV who roller skated and made soda and kitchen appliance ads. His dad owns an Ice Cream shop and likes to drink a six pack before the afternoon is gone; it isn't Pepsi. They both hate me, or at least that's what I think.

His mom always gives a kind of pasty glare whenever I walk by the house, and his dad just stares at me with blood shot eyes, but he never really speaks much. I'd asked Theo dozens of times during our childhood together, but he would never give a straight answer as to what was so wrong with me that I deserved their animosity.

"Theo, why don't your parents like me?" I'd been playing with a lighter I'd stolen from the corner store, flicking it on and off, on and off.

He'd been terribly interested in his model car at the time. "I dunno."

"Is it 'cause I talk about Hell sometimes?"

I could tell he was rolling his eyes, because he'd smirked like he had. "All the time, Soph' – you talk about Hell all the time."

I'd crinkled my brow and brushed some uneven bangs out of one eye indignantly. "It's not my fault! I was just born with an interest!"

Theo hadn't answered because he'd been too enraptured with fitting a plastic wheel together and spinning it just to see if it worked. I don't know why my dad bought him all those model cars in grade four, but Theo adored them. They didn't explode, and therefore held no interest to me.

"It's 'cause I got religion." I'd declared finally, pretty sure that that was it. I'd read several stories by then in pamphlets at the church about martyrs like me. Of course they'd been beaten and mutilated, writing books and letters about it and how God had helped them live. I had wondered if Theo's mom would shove me into the cellar and burn holes through my skin with lit cigarettes. That would be something to write about.

Whatever the reason, I didn't, and still don't, enjoy going to his house, which is the reason he always came to mine. He slept over a lot, even when we were kids. We got him his own special couch in my room from a flea market for when he came. Now he just comes whenever he feels like it, usually never making a sound so that I don't know he's there until I wake up.

"I got you something." Theo says finally after what seems like endless silence. However comfortable it is, I don't like too much of it.

I sit up a little. "Fireworks?"

He shakes his head and pulls out a one litre bottle of organic berry smoothie from a worn black back pack. "I figured it could be a congrats – for you graduating and all."

I smile and take the smoothie – my favorite. "Thanks." Theo didn't graduate. I can tell that he's thinking about his 'failure'. His parents won't be happy, again. "You're still the smartest person I know, Theo."

He smiles a little, but he doesn't really believe me. All that matters is what's on paper, and since he and paper don't seem to get along well, they say that he fails. It seems kind of unfair.

More silence descends while we stare at the trees swaying in the breeze and an orange tom cat sauntering lazily by. I watch ants crawl around on the cracked sidewalk of the church walkway. If the world were a giant ant hill we'd be communists and no one would be jobless or homeless. Some fat lady would pop out the world's population, and every once in awhile our empire would be crushed or flooded or eaten. Theo told me that once. It kind of makes sense.

"Let's go." I say as I stand up.

Theo follows doggedly and we find ourselves at the corner store buying chocolate bars and sour candy. We then head to my house and watch the Ninja Turtles, consuming said chocolate bars and sour candy simultaneously. Theo and I have been watching the Ninja Turtles since before we'd met. I always thought it strange that a bunch of giant turtles, the product of nuclear waste, could be so mobile and swift with such large shells in the way. Theo says I should stop analyzing it so deeply, but I can't help it. I'm barely coordinated as it is, and I don't have to deal with a huge shell. How do they do it?

After the movie we head up to the cliff and watch the sun go down. I crack open the bottle of berry smoothie like it's alcohol and Theo and I throw firecrackers off the cliff and watch them explode halfway down. The explosions flash bright white lights and leave me seeing purple spots. After I run out of firecrackers, we sit down in the dark and wait until the purple spots disappear.

"We should go to Los Angeles." I say after a minute.

Theo looks at me skeptically. "Why?"

I shrug. "Everyone goes there."

"Like who?" he asks.

There isn't anyone I know that's ever been to Los Angeles, except for my aunt Ida. She said it was nice to look at, but not to touch, like the fine china Sarah Lee never uses and keeps locked in a cabinet.

"All the stars go there," I say finally. "And besides, it's near Disneyland."

Theo sighs. "I like the stars here."

I frown but look up at the sky anyway. The nice thing about having very few streetlamps, and even fewer that actually work, is that you have a much better view of the stars. They get so bright sometimes, you feel like you can see them burning and blinking, as if you can pull one out and hold in your hand like a marble. Theo had a telescope once in seventh grade, but it got smashed somehow. We used to find planets and things. Now we just like staring at them for a long time.

I take a swig of my berry smoothie and hand it to Theo who takes one too. For some reason I mention that I've decided to become a vegetarian this summer. Theo says he'll never become a vegetarian; he's practically a carnivore.

We end up going back to my house and sleeping in sleeping bags on the roof of my garage.

"Theo, do you think we'll raise our kids in the same neighborhood and go skinny dipping when we're sixty?" I ask through a hazy cloud of sleep. The chemicals must have kicked in early.

"Huh?" he's probably only paying attention because I said 'skinny dipping'.

I explain the conversation with Naomi.

"Oh. I dunno. Maybe." He pauses thoughtfully. "As long as it's not here."

"On the roof of my garage?"

"No," he sighs. "In Laughlin. In Kansas." Maybe he means that he hates living right smack in the middle of the country. I do too. We don't even have an interesting border; we're just a squiggly, lopsided rectangle in the middle of several similar-looking lopsided rectangles. Geography hadn't been my strongest subject, I just remember the shapes.

"Oh. Okay." A few minutes of silence goes by. "Theo?"

"Hmnh." He's starting to drift. I know he is when he inserts an 'n' in his 'Hm's.

"Promise you'll go skinny dipping with me and Naomi when we're sixty?"


That's all I need.