Chapter Two: In which more shit hits the fan
A week. That was all I had left in Beresford, Minnesota before I left to spend the entirety of my winter vacation with my father. He might as well have been a stranger considering the few facts I knew about him I read in tabloids, a completely untrustworthy source.
I didn't even know why I still bothered to read any articles featuring him, but I guess despite my best efforts his presence in my life clung like a band-aid I couldn't peel off. Until now, that'd been harmless, but I always thought one day I would muster up the courage to just rip the band aid clean off. It'd hurt of course, but I yearned for freedom from this desire for him to be a part of my life. Either that or be out of my life completely, not this gross band-aid I cowered from removing.
When I reached my bedroom, even the silk comforter I threw myself on offered no comfort. My face sunk into a pillow on my bed, and I hugged it tightly against my chest. I squeezed my eyes shut as hard as I could, but the tears still leaked through tiny slits. I could feel the warmth of the tears against my cheeks as they soaked into the cotton fabric. Without thinking, I punched a pillow and the pillow I had cried into seconds before soared across the room, crashing against my antique vanity.
That stupid vanity, I really hated it right now.
I started to collapse once more onto my bed but my peripheral vision caught a hall-mark card falling-a result of a very stupid tear-soaked pillow. Stupid card.
With a sigh of defeat, I pushed myself up to put the card away and put the pillow where it belonged: underneath my sobbing face.
A cartoon-drawn teenage girl with a huge-ass smile greeted me, her white teeth almost comically glossy from the card's shiny material. Happy 14th! The front cover read, the text obnoxiously bright and bubbly. I couldn't help being masochistic and opening it to read the inside, though the words engraved themselves in my mind the first time I read them three days ago. To a special girl who's out of this world! Underneath the generic yuck of that phrase was writing someone scrawled out hastily, thoughtlessly.
Hoping you had the best birthday ever! Missing you always, love dad!
A single tear dropped onto the card, smudging the ink. I wiped it away, truly ashamed at my pathetic crying display.
"I'm fifteen. Not that you care," I muttered to the card like an insane person. Every year Phillip sent a birthday and Christmas card, along with an expensive present, but I knew he himself didn't even bother to write what was supposed to be his personal message. His hired assistant did. This year, he slipped up big time.
Judging by the huge difference in penmanship from every single one of my past cards, I concluded he recently replaced his personal assistant. Since my dad probably estimated my actual age I'm sure he told the assistant I was fourteen and the assistant managed to find the one birthday card that donned such a specific birthday number. Maybe the assistant even customized the card with that age, thinking the specificity would hint my dad actually cared and kept up with my life as best he could.
How ironic that turned out.
With a snarl I shoved it into the purple-and-pink-striped box I kept underneath my vanity. I stashed all the past birthday cards my father sent in this box.
Honestly, I should have thrown them all away a long time ago.
Duchess' shrill cry cut through my moping. She examined me from behind the white bars of her roomy cage, her paws scattering the cut-up newspaper bedding underneath her as she scurried closer to me. The fluorescent light of my room created a halo effect above her white and light-brown spotted fur. How fitting, as she seemed like an angel in that moment. What better way to soothe my nerves than snuggling with something furry and cute?
"Duchess," I muttered with a weak smile, making my way to her cage. As I approached, her squeals grew higher and more frequent and she hopped around the cage excitedly until I scooped her up. She climbed on top of my shoulder, her usual spot, and her squeals turned into coos that melted into my very soul. Just what I needed. I leaned my head gently against her, so that she rested snuggly between my cheek and shoulder.
Without warning, my door flung open and an outraged Valerie stood with her mouth agape.
I scrambled to keep from dropping Duchess as the frightened guinea pig squirmed, pressing her claws against the flesh of my exposed neck.
"What the hell?" Valerie cried.
Before I could say a word, she turned and slammed the door, causing Duchess to all but leap off my shoulder.
"Wait!" I yelled as I shoved Duchess back in her cage before running after Valerie. The girl was fast; she had already made it outside by the time I ran through the living room, so I didn't even bother putting my coat on before racing into Jack Frost's hell.
"Wait!" I screamed to her quickly disappearing figure. The snow picked up, and piercing winds swirled around me. Within seconds my entire body trembled from the cold.
I found myself sprinting, gasping for air as Valerie showed no sign of stopping, or of slowing down.
The word fell on deaf ears, but I pressed on, not daring to lessen my pace. My feet thudded awkwardly against the concrete sidewalk-I hated running-but I just pushed myself further. How I avoided slipping on snow-covered patches of ice, I'll never know.
At last close enough, I reached out to grab her arm. Within inches of her puffy, green coat, she turned toward me and I saw the tears streaming down her face. My hands pulled back against my chest.
I faced the consequences of my ridiculous lie.
"Why?" she whispered. She clutched a rolled up canvas against her frame and hugged it the same way I clung to my pillow just minutes earlier.
My lips parted to form some sort of answer, though my brain hadn't formed one yet. I just knew I had to say something.
Valerie beat me to it. "I don't understand, and you know what? I don't think anything you say can change that, Avery, so don't bother."
Fresh tears flowed, and they stung as the weather practically froze them against my cold, red cheeks.
"You lied to get out of viewing my exhibit? That is just-so messed up, I don't even know where to begin," she continued, her chunky bracelets clacking together as her free arm made wild gestures. The other one still gripped the canvas tightly against her.
I understood how utterly ridiculous my fib was only now, as Valerie's words flew like sharp daggers from her mouth. But it was all too late. So I let their impact strike me deep inside, knowing I caused every ounce of that situation. One dagger hit my brain that should have known better than telling such a ridiculous lie-and acting it out, going along with it! One struck my soul, rattling the core of all the masks I'd ever worn in front of Valerie; this was far from the first time I had lied to her. Of course, the dagger with the must punch ripped straight into my heart and I struggled to keep standing as the most genuine feeling of hurt I'd ever experienced weighed me down.
"You're a bitch," she muttered, her sharp breath visible in the winter air.
I knew I deserved every pang at that moment, so I let the daggers dig in deeper.
With a look of utter abhorrence she flung her canvas at me. I caught it by reflex, nothing more.
"I wish you the best in life, Avery. Honestly, I do. Who knows, maybe you'll make a friend you actually care about? Even as pissed as I am with you right now, I hope so. But I don't ever want to speak to you again."
And when I looked up from catching the masterpiece she slaved over, all that remained of Valerie's presence was a beautiful painting of her and me mid-pillow fight, as goose feathers painted in soft blue hues danced around us.
I didn't know what hurt more: the final stab the painting inflicted, or the empty footsteps in the snow from Valerie walking away.
"Wait," I whispered, but the wind drowned out my silent plea.
"I'm so sorry."
Mother rushed toward me when I finally stumbled back into the house. Her arms spread for a hug, and I let her squeeze me with all the motherly love contained in her bear-like frame. Her chin rested on the top of my head. She rubbed my back as I sniffled and hiccupped, then moved onto vigorously rubbing my arms to warm them up.
"I couldn't stop her, she just made a bee-line for your door," she said as she wrapped a green throw-blanket across my shoulders and gripped me once more in a tight hug.
"It wasn't your fault," I muttered into the warmth of her grey sweater.
I thought Valerie was just someone I used as a best friend for the acting experience. In my mind, I always pictured how the scene of her finding out my façade would play out. Several times in the confinement of my head, I watched, detached, as she called me horrible names and flung things at me. But living the real thing-well, my imagination failed to prepare me for the brutality. Where had my calm, collected, and detached persona slipped off to?
I think I underestimated how much Valerie meant to me; without my permission or awareness, her presence had tattooed itself onto my heart, and I hated the after-effects of the removal.
"I'm so stupid," I whispered to myself. Not the vanity, or the tear-soaked pillow, or even the ridiculous card that I projected my frustrations onto earlier matched the true idiot. Me. Stupid me.
"No, no, honey," my mother cooed in a honey-sweet tone. I could feel her chuckle softly as her chin moved on the crown of my head. "You messed up, but everyone makes mistakes. Consider it a war-scar from life and learn from it."
She slipped a finger under my chin and raised it so I met her gaze.
"The sun will come out tomorrow?"
I scowled at her as I pulled away from her embrace. "Yes, but it will still be winter and I hate snow," I muttered as I sulked to my room. I fully intended to alternate cuddling Duchess and my pillow while I watched an extensive list of senseless comedies.
Mother twisted the phone chord around a finger as she tapped the side-table with her free hand.
"You don't understand, she was so upset," she whispered into the phone's receiver. Perched in the blue recliner once more, her shadow was the only thing that accompanied her at the current midnight hour.
Well, that wasn't completely true. In my quest for a late-night snack, I stumbled upon her phone call. I sat in the hallway, cloaked by the darkness as I leaned against the wall to better hear her mumbled words.
"No, Phillip, she didn't take the whole ticket thing well. How did you think she'd take it? 'why yes, mother, I'd love to visit the father whose only contact with me has been through birthday and Christmas cards.'"
I glowered at her poor imitation of my voice, and she struggled to keep her voice to a whisper, though at the this point it resembled more of an enraged hiss.
"Don't blame this on me! It isn't like you made much of an effort to be a part of her life, okay?"
Her nails dug into the arm of the chair, leaving subtle scratch marks as she pulled her hand away to rub the sleep from her eyes.
"I told you before, she's-she's so much like you it isn't funny. I just hope you'll realize the mistake you plan on making before it's too late."
The muffled sound of my father's yelled response filled the eerily quiet house, but of course I couldn't make out the words.
"I know," she replied curtly, her syllables crisp and defined in the two-word phrase, "but I'm still going along with it, and you have no idea how miserable that makes me."
She slammed the phone against the receiver, hanging up on him before he could respond.
As I slinked back to my room, my mind blazed with questions.
Most importantly, what exactly was my mother going along with?
Apology Monologue, Draft 1
Valerie, I'm sooo truly sorry.
Honestly, I feel absolutely yuck horrible about what telling you that ridiculous lie and I might possibly be on the verge of listing off all these cliché lines of what your friendship means to me I know that doesn't much, I know I should have been there. I should have been in the audience listening as you presented what meant so much to you. Yes, to make me even more despicable, I knew how much that exhibit meant to you and I still pulled that stunt. But really, I think your painting is breath taking. I felt even more like an ass after I saw your masterpiece. I wish I could draw beyond stick figures. That seems like I'm sucking up to you before I ask for forgiveness, doesn't it?
Here's the thing: I can't exactly apologize because that isn't nearly enough, and you know how good I am at feigning apologies, so I don't think it'd mean much. Just speak to me again, okay? I don't care if you glare at me. I don't care if it starts off as one word syllables, because syllables form words, and words can turn into sentences, and sentences can turn into conversations. I won't just pretend to listen as you ramble on and on during our shopping trips and when we play truth or dare, I won't lie anymore.
At the end of winter break, can we just push past this? I'm not going to lie (that's a start, right?) and say I've completely changed, but I do promise to try. I mean, old habits die hard but I'm not lying when I say you truly did become my best friend over the course of our middle school years. Sorry I didn't realize that until now. I told you this would end up being a ton of cliché.
I threw the scrawled piece of paper into my purple polka-dot garbage can, feeling incredibly low. I left for Chicago tomorrow, and Valerie had kept true to her word-she hadn't muttered a single word to me since our fight six days ago. I knew I deserved her cold-shoulder treatment, but it didn't make it any less painful. Especially since I didn't hang out with anyone else at Beresford on a consistent basis, so I was reduced to talking with Sharon in my times of social starvation.
My packed vintage suitcase teased from atop my bed.
I guess I could make another genuine friend; I hadn't meant to become so
close to Valerie in the first place. Finding another friend might not be so hard. Only deep down, I knew I was just putting on a mask to keep myself from getting hurt. I messed up, and I couldn't undo it.