my new-found friend and feeling

sleeping lessons by the shins

I lived in a house called Darling, one of three girls' dormitorys at Anikee. My roomates, as I remember them from my first few days, were silent and watchful, a hush falling through their ranks as I stepped out my room door. They studied me with wide, owl-like eyes as I made the trek from my room to our communal lounge to make coffee. Their eyes never seemed to miss a beat. At the time, I would blush honest-to-God from head to toe as I sensed their stare, so sure they were scrutinizing me like that because they hated me. Many years later I would be told at a school reunion that, no, they did not hate me in those first few days... as such. That was the wrong choice of words. They were envious of me and weren't used to the way I looked (apparently, beautiful). They were jealous because already word had spread of me like wildfire through all the boys houses, and everyone was asking them about me and if I was really hot. All I can say is well, sorry.

The communal lounge consited of a kitchen with two huge, white, humming fridges, a sink, a microwave and a lounge with six couches and a pretty ginormus TV, on which you could get thirty-two "school approved" channels. At any given time you could find on average twelves girls lounging around out there, some sprawled across the floor watching Discovery with shut-down minds, some doing homework and muttering to themselves through the hard equations, and some laughing and talking loudly with friends. You'd find more at night time, when the supervisor watched television with us. We had a nice supervisor called Becky who let us watch Veronica Mars if we were good.

Then there was this day that, as usual, I timidly crept out of my room. Instantly, I could feel their blaring eyes on me. White, staring eyes that were starting to really grate on raw nerves. I kept my head ducked down, however, my hair falling silkily down to my face, a curtain. Being stared at made me very, very self conscious. I was on my way to the fridge for some chocolate I'd left in the freezer to harden. As my shoe soles met the cool kitchen tiles, suddenly a girl stopped me, her milk-white fingers curling around the top half of my elbow.

I looked up, trying to mask my indignance at being touched with a look of polite inquiry, when my face froze. The girl in front of me was nothing short of spectacular. And my complete opposite. Where I was short and thin, she was tall and curvy; where I (or atleast I thought) exuded a degree of weakness and insecurity, she radiated bright and happy, strong; where I had light green eyes, she had dark irises like black pearls; where my hair fell around me, black and straight, hers was wavy and flaxen. The only thing we shared was our porcelain skin.

Her jaw worked as she snapped the chewing gum in her mouth, "Hey, you're a new girl right? What's your name?"

"Luce..." I faltered for a moment, hypnotized and very intimidated by this girl, "Lucy Overton."

"Hey," she said, "The name's Frankie... You doing anything special right now?"

I glanced at the refridgerator for a moment, hesitant. Instantly, I corrected myself, thinking sternly: You need a friend in this barren school a lot more than you need a chocolate.

"No. Not really," I answered.

And then came my appraisal. We all know what this is: the once over the other person gives you, dark eyes scruitizing you, sizing you up - will you be friend or foe? Uncomfortable, I shifted under her gaze, feeling my cheeks grow hot with her eyes resting upon them. I kept my eyes trained on her face, however, and slowly, ever so slowly, I watched as a smile crept across her face. They made dimples show on her face - dimples that made her look more like a girl my age, younger and fresher and maybe even a bit approachable, "Wanna hang out for a bit?"

Maybe a bit too enthusiatically, I said, "Yeah!"

Oh, well, give me a break. I was fifteen, at a new school in an entirely different state from all family and friends I'd had since childhood, so lonely I felt as if there was a hole in my heart. Have you ever felt truly alone in a completely foreign environment, without any safety net or fallback? You blood tends to turn to icewater and chill every bone in your body. You never quite know what to do or what to say and when people look at you, you find yourself doing all you can - smiling awkwardly, a track on repeat in your head, persistant because you don't want to forget: don't screw up don't trip don't fall don't screw up.

The girls around us, eyes still wide and watchful, surveyed this new scene with their typical hush.

"Cool," Frankie said, grinning, "Follow me, yeah?"

I nodded, but before any strands of doubt could settle in my mind, Frankie had wrapped her hand more firmly around my hand and was leading the way. To where? I had no idea, and frankly I didn't mind. I tried to cover up the fact that I had jerked at the touch of her hand in mine. I had never been one of those touchy-feely- girls and nor was my family. Touch was taboo, as far as my mindset back then had been concerned. I simply wasn't used to other people's skin on mine. However, even though I tried, Frankie noticed, and all she did was hold my hand harder. She pulled me straight out of the communal lounge and down stairs, through hallways I didn't recognize until finally we were out on the grounds.

The air around me hung, heavily scented and, since daylight was already ebbing, electric with the sounds of crickets. We were walking out in the Witching Hour, as my mother back home had called it. That curious hour in which the Earth hangs in limbo, between afternoon and evening, everything cast in that saccharine purpley-grey. Under our hastneed feet, kindling crunched, as we made our way through the grassy stretch and further, into the Anikee Woods. It was a mess of trees and moist air, just like a forest, pretty and untailored and beautiful in its untailored radiance. The sun, orange and luminent, was glowing through the darkening sky, half hidden behind the jagged Anikee Twin Peak Mountains. I could feel my exposed arms being bitten hungrily by the mosquitos, but I was too excited about where we were going. What Frankie and I might be doing. Where was she leading me? What was our destination?

I didn't utter a word and nor did she, and after maybe ten minutes of walking in silence, we finally stopped. In front of one of the biggest, oldest, most gnarled trees I had ever seen. I waited for Frankie to talk.

"Lucy," she started, her eyes strangely intense, almost throbbing through the haze of a darkening day that was setting in, "I've been watching you."

Whatever I may have been expecting, that was most certainly not it. I had watched enough horror movies, and my strangely over-heightened sense of imagination envisioned me already dead, killed by this beautiful stranger. Unnerved, I took a step back almost subconsciously and responded with an uncertain but questioning, "Oh?"

Any tension I felt was resolved when she laughed suddenly, heartily.

"No! No, no, no, no, no. Not like that! Don't worry, Lucy, I'm not planning on killing you...," she said, before adding in a mock-dark voice, "Anytime soon."

I giggled at my own stupidity, rather than her joke, as my senses settled back to normal. I felt suddenly remarkably foolish, but not in mortification. I laughed with Frankie at myself.

"I just... Like you, I suppose," Frankie said, "Or, rather, the way you carry yourself. Very dignified. You seem like someone I would like to get to know a bit more."

Dignified! I liked the sound of the world, really, I did. But honestly, I knew it had no right to be placed anywhere near me. I, Lucy Overton, was not dignified. In my perception - and I would've known, being in such close proximity with myself at all times - I was awkwad, anxious, shy and meek, scared and lonely. Even if I wanted to, I don't think I could've been dignified. Years later, Frankie will tell me that it was not any dignity that I possessed that brought her to me per se, it was rather my sense of mystery. She had never seen anyone like me before, anyone who did not immediately at having arrived at the school, try to deduce the alphas and latch onto them. She had never seen anyone who, so beautiful, didn't seem to fit with any pre-exisiting social faction. She says she saw an element of herself in me, but mostly she was as captivated with me as I was with her.

"Uh," I said, "I, erm... Thanks."

Frankie laughed, and for a moment I saw her clearly even though everything was darkening around us. There was a spark to the way she laughed - a spark that lightened up her dark eyes and erased any intensity within them. Her face was opened as she smiled, putting me at ease. I stopped feeling intimidated, feeling strengthened in the darkness. I asked, "What are we doing here?"

"Lucy," Frankie said, almost solemly, pointing at the old tree, "This is my special tree. Her name is Luciana. She is way older than you or I can ever hope to be. And she is very, very significant to my wellbeing. I draw my strength from this tree, and since I am delegating you to the role of my best friend, I think it is imperative that you know these things..."

"I," I stopped, "What?"

Best friend? Was I dreaming? Could this girl possibly want something to do with me?

Smiling apologetically, Frankie said, "Sorry, I tend to come on a bit strong sometimes. Will you be my bestfriend?"

"Yes!" I said, maybe for that second time that day a little bit too enthusiastically.

There was something so exciting about the start to my relationship with Frankie back then... Most relationships I had ever formed had started tentatively, a series of awkward thin-ice conversations in which friendship was established slowly but surely, inching forwards slowly. I definitely wasn't used to something so... so... blatant. There was always something very, tangibly different between my relationship with Frankie and any other relationship I had ever had before it. Her mannerisms, her ways were so unique, so unparelled from anyone else's before in my life.

"So," Frankie said, "Take a good look at Luciana... Drink her in."

That tree - 'Luciana' would become the stomping ground of Frankie and I's (as well as our various consorts), and yet to my eyes back then it looked nothing specia. Twisted and gnarled, half bent over like an old man, trunk and bark pretty. The last radials of sunlight, looking slightly sickly in their faded glory, danced through the tree's leaves and illuminated Frankie and I just slightly, our skin looking slightly grey in the light. And even back then, in that fabled and typical daze of adolescent invisibility, I could tell that this moment, this moment that I was currently living, would be remembered in years time. That this was the beggining of something. A new era, maybe. A new life, or maybe a new me.

I was confused by what it meant, but then again, I was also very naive.

I had thought, since being inducted as Frankie's bestfriend, I would never have to see Donnie Adderson again. Since Frankie's timetable almost completely parelleled mine (computers, phsyical education and science excluded), it had been decided I would sit next to her in every class. English had been first, and even though Donnie had half smirked at me as he had sauntered into the classroom, I had thought that communication of that calibre would be all I would ever have to endure from him for the rest of the year.

Lunch at Anikee was never quite the same affair that I was used to. A loud, chattering dining hall with tables long enough to seat twenty people made up an enormous expanse. Food was collected and there was a teacher in place to inspect that meals were nutritional and that each student had atleast one vegetable or fruit on their plate. I noticed that as soon as it was acknowledged that I was, in fact, the best friend of the famed and esteemed Frankie Doherty, I was no longer jostled or bumped in in the hall. As soon as we got into line, a boy to Frankie's right flushed almost crimson, unbenknownst to the object of his quite obvious desires, who continued chattering away amicably.

I look back on these times, in which people at reunions have told me since that half the school was falling in love with me, and I wonder if I was like Frankie. Breaking hearts simply by just not noticing, not comprehending my beauty or allure back then. I can not honestly say I thought boys had crushes on me back then. I thought I was simply Frankie's lucky sidekick rather than her equivalent - which Frankie ensures me I most definitely was. Did boys lust after me? Fall in love with me? Why didn't I notice until too late?

Searching my past, I have began to feel increasingly embarressed and uncomfortable with just how naive I was, how sheltered and blind I was. Luckily, this period did not last long.

As we walked to our table, where a few more handfuls of very pretty and very unobnoxious girls sat, all of them apart of some scene or another - a real mixed bag of gorgeous girls, I felt eyes on me but tried not to think anything of it. Shockwaves of whispers rippled through the other students, the other gossip mongering students. Taking Frankie's lead, I pretended I had not noticed, sitting down beside her and picking up my fork, letting the conversation around me carry on.

"Guess whose name I saw carved into a tree?" asked Trish, a girl with a shock of red hair and opinions that made me blush. She leant forward slightly in her eagreness to tell Frankie.

Before I could stop myself, I asked thoughtfully, "Why is it such a big deal?"

Frankie shrugged and sent me a sideways glance, "Well, we have this tradition down here..."

"Okay," I said, "And?"

"The kids around here - the couples," Frankie explained, blushing slightly as she told me, something I had never seen her do before, "When they... you know... fuck, they go out into the Anikee Woods at night to do it because there's not anywhere else, really. After they do it, they usually carve their names in the tree."

"Oh," I said, wrinkling my nose, "That's... Erm..."

"Yeah," conceeded Trish, "Anyways, guess whose name was there?"

"Who?" asked Frankie.

"Frieda!" squealed Trish, her face lighting up like Christmas had come.

"Oh. My. God," said Frankie, emphasizing each word, her eyes going round, "The foreign exchange student? You're joking! With who?"

I drowned out the rest of their talk, looking down at my food. I toyed with the green beans, which looked shrivelled and dehydrated, the tips wrinkled and grey. Ah, the mythical boarding school food. I am not here to dispell that legend - it happens to be true. Boarding school food does happen to be shit because, well, what are the students going to do? Tell their parents?

From beside me, suddenly, came the unmistakably voice of Donnie Adderson, just quiet enough for me to hear, "Interesting, aren't they?"

I let out an undignified squeak and dropped my fork onto my plate, a hand jumping to my chest to try and still my skyrocketing heartrate, "Where did you come from?!"

"My parents," Donnie said smoothly, "I could ask you the same thing."

"I..." Glancing at Frankie, who was still conversing with Trish in what I'm sure was a deeply spiritual level, I drew strength, "I sit here."

"Well, here's a coincidence!" said Donnie, taking a bean from my plate and popping it into his mouth, "So do I."

"Great," I muttered under my breath darkly.

"What was that?" Donnie asked politely.

"Nothing," I replied, "Just... I thought you'd hang out in a different crowd."

Inside, my mind was playing in its eye the image of our last occurence. I fought the blush uprising across my cheeks and lost.

Donnie shrugged easily, "It would seem not. So, how are you since our last chat?"

"Fine," I said, sharply, staring back at my plate.

I thanked my lucky stars as I thought myself saved from any more awkward conversation by Frankie, who exclaimed, "Oh my God, Donnie! I haven't seen you in so long. What made you come over to say hello?"

"We're looking at her," Donnie said, grinning.

Or maybe not. I felt myself go bright red and tried very hard not to sink down into a puddle or run out of the room.

"This is Lucy," Frankie said, slinging an arm around my shoulders, "Isn't she gorgeous?"

"Isn't she just?" agreed Donnie.

I had noticed by now that when Frankie and I were alone, she was very different from Frankie around others. Around others, Frankie was bubbly and alive and a lot like a stereotype... She emphasized names and put on an exubarent voice, talked about topics I could tell she didn't really care for. It was if she changed herself in accordance to who was around her, a chameleon of sorts. Alone, Frankie was insightful and eloquent and internalized... She talked a lot softer, still happy, still bubbly, still bright, but more quietly so.

I tried very hard not to blush redder than I was already, for I feared my skin would simply peel off, burnt.

"So how's life been treating you?" asked Frankie, to try and alievate the obvious tension - coming mainly from me. Under her arm, my muscles were tense and taut, and I knew she could feel it.

"Same ol', same ol', unforunately," said Donnie, "I sat next to Lucy very breifly... In English."

"Before I stole her away," said Frankie, "Ah, yes. Such is life. I wanted her for myself. You were quite rude to her."

Finding my voice, I added, "You really were."

"A beautiful girl sits down beside you and then out of nowhere introduces herself," Donnie said, "I clammed up, got shy."

"You don't seem like the clamming type," I observed, my tone full of accusation. I moved just a fraction so I was more nestled in Frankie's arm, feeling confident with her beside me, to back me up.

Donnie arched an eyebrow, "Forming opinions on me so soon, Lucy? Make sure you get my good side: I'm an avid reader and animal lover."

And then, out of nowhere, came my mouth, "I don't know how being an indulger of beastiality would fall into your good side."

Frankie and Donnie both looked at me, half-shocked, considering who I was and what exactly I had just said. I myself was suprised, saying internally in stern repraisal: Lucy! But beside me, I could feel Frankie shaking with laughter and could hear one of the students who had been eavesdropping snicker.

"Touche," Donnie laughed, "Well, Lucy, you've certainly made my goodside, no doubt. I best be off."

A voice inside my head, sounding suspiciously like my mother, said: apologize, Lucy! So as Donnie started to walk away, back to his actual table where surly looking, too-thin boys picked morosely at their food, I called out quickly, "Donnie!" He turned around an stared at me enquiringly. I stood up from my seat awkwardly, my chair scraping rather harshly, and walked over so our conversation would be private.

"I'm sorry for being rude," I said honestly, "I don't know what came over me. I'm not usually like that."

Donnie laughed, but not good-naturedly, "I was actually quite impressed. Didn't know you had it in you, to be honest."

"Oh," I said, eloquently.

"I'll be sure to talk to you again," Donnie said.

And for some reason, to my ears, it sounded like a threat.

Poor Lucy.
xox sheets