I stare out the classroom window at a group of students, all my age, playing on their phones and giggling aloud. And, in the center as always, is Phoenix, the most popular guy in school. Not that it looks that way right now. Right now, all I see is a happy, confident guy having fun with his friends like anyone else. Who knew my unrequited crush in high school could not only be absolutely amazing, but also utterly disappointing.
No matter what I try to do, it's pointless. Every girl in school wants to be his girlfriend, and I know he's not very receptive of such "fans," so to speak. I can tell he hates obsessive girls that don't give him his space. I feel like if I did manage to confront him about my feelings, he wouldn't give rejecting me a moment's hesitation. Not like it's any better to be hiding my feelings, though. I feel like I'm betraying myself. Two years ago, though it feels like a millennium, I would always hide my feelings towards my old crush, and never let the tiniest bit of them show. But I didn't accept my feelings. I didn't even acknowledge them. I tried to convince myself that I didn't like that crush, but all I ended up doing was confusing myself and making it difficult to be around him. It was only when he went to a different school that I truly got over him.
At least now I'm not lying to myself. Not that the pain of refusing to let myself show my feelings helps any. I feel like it would probably just be best if I told Phoenix how I feel, get it off my shoulders. But society holds me back. If I told him, I'd be the most hated person on school campus, and I hear that the popular girls tend to do some mean things to the ones who confess to him.
I turn my eyes back to my soggy lunch. It's not like thinking about it will do me any good, anyway. Sometimes you can't avoid these kinds of situations. I just have to deal with it and try to be happy with my life nonetheless. Right?
I take another bite out of my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and decide to try to find Alicia when I'm done with this. These days, only a friend can mend my broken heart. I've tried ice cream, studying, finding some other guy to think about, but to no avail. They never last. They're all temporary solutions. Friends aren't like that, though. They stick with you for life, no matter what, and always believe in you. It's them that make my life worth living, them that make me smile, forgetting about the pain.
I've always wanted one of those cheesy, cliché romances where I would have an amazing boyfriend to support me. But, these days, I think a friend is enough. I think that all those romantic moments - crying on his shoulder, hugs, smiles, etc. All of it can be replaced by a friend. Friends can hold you close when you need them and offer you a tissue when you're sad. Friends can hold that role and not have any romantic feelings to screw it up. I guess that's probably part of why I didn't choose to pursue Phoenix. I have all I need, right here, in the form of friends.
But, once again, I feel like I'm just trying to convince myself I'm fine, like I truly don't feel that way. Maybe romantic feelings do always cause pain, whether neglected or accepted. Even if I forget about them for a little while, I'm still neglecting them, and it just makes my heart hurt to be this way. Maybe that's why I hold my friends so close - since I want to forget about my crush and my feelings, to use my friends as a way to escape.
I finish up my sandwich and lick the crumbs off my fingers. Mmm...jelly always tastes amazing. I stand up from my desk, chair moving backwards in my wake, grab my backpack, and rush off to Alicia's classroom. My feet tread lightly on the hallway tiles, my backpack feeling like a feather without my giant history textbook inside it.
I pass by all of the rooms, looking for classroom 109. You see, our school is pretty small, without enough room to have a full-size cafeteria (I know, that's crazy right?) what with our giant auditorium and classrooms. I don't know who designed it that way, but it works fine for me. Only a very few people get to sit at the cafeteria tables there. Most of us eat in the classrooms, and there's a pretty strict custodian that goes around the school and makes sure we don't leave one bit of trash lying around. The rest go eat outside on some benches, but I've always preferred inside because it gets hot out there in the summer and freezing during the winter. Most of the time, people just go out there during the nicer months in fall or spring, which I enjoy more since it's only a few of us that stay inside. I love having that quiet peacefulness.
I don't eat with my friends probably for that same reason. Though I love having them around, it's nice to have a few minutes to myself where I can let my thoughts run. I always go to see them after I'm done eating though. It's not like it takes that long to eat a PB&J sandwich anyway.
The classroom numbers start from 101 and zigzag across the halls. I look at the ones on my right, which are all odds: 113...111...109. For some reason the classrooms start with #101, perhaps to sound cooler or something. I slow up and open the door to my right. Underneath the number 109 sign on the doorway is the teacher's name, Ms. Burnackle. Of course, she's not here. Very few of the teachers stay to offer lunch help. The rest just go off to the Teacher's Lounge to eat. I've heard countless people complain about how the teachers get a room to eat while we don't. Not that I particularly care.
I cruise by the desks like I'm floating on air. I don't know why, but today my muscles feel extra light. Maybe I got some good rest last night or something.
"Julia!" squeals Alicia, grinning excitedly. I smile back at her. "Guess what, guess what, guess what!"
"What?" I reply.
"I've got the best news in the universe," she sings. "Guess who just asked me if he could join your art club!"
I think about if anyone outside of the art club might be interested in joining. I don't really know that many guys, but one of my classmates always carries around a bunch of highlighters and pens and sometimes doodles in his notebook, so maybe it's him? "Gerald?"
She stares at me like I don't know a thing in the world. "No, silly! It's Phoenix."
"Oh, I thought it was Gerald," I say laughing lightheartedly, then the name sinks in. My jaw drops to the floor. "Holy crap! Phoenix?" Eyes bright with giddiness and mischief, Alicia nods her head. "Omg, omg, OMG!" I say, hyperventilating. "Phoenix is going to join my club?" She nods her head in affirmation. "And do art...with me?" She nods again. "Outside of class?" And again. "How did this even happen?"
She leans in and whispers, "He told me it's a secret. All he said that he was really interested in joining the club. Which means..." Her voice drops down even lower, and I strain to hear. "He's really interested in you." She waggles her eyebrows suggestively.
I feel like my eyes are going to pop out, they're open so wide. I feel my cheeks with my hands. They're as hot as the sun. I realize my surroundings as whispers start rising up. Oh no! Everyone just heard that entire conversation(except the whispering part). And my excitement over Phoenix joining the club was practically as bad as blurting out to the whole school, "I love Phoenix!" I can just imagine it: the posters that will be on the school announcement board tomorrow and the gossip about this scandal. And the popular girls will be after me any second now.
Alicia meets my gaze knowingly and pulls me off to the girls' bathroom. My backpack slides off onto the white tiles. I glance in the mirror and see a mascara-streaked, wet face. I can't help but cry now that my social life is over and I have nowhere to run from the popular girls. "What should I do?" I ask Alicia, trembling.
She turns me around to face her and pushes my hair behind my ear. "Julia," she says earnestly. "There's no need to cry. This isn't right. It's not fair for you to have to suffer over something you can't control." I look away, shameful and distressed. "It's not your fault that you like him, and I won't let you get punished for it." She looks off into the distance with a dignified air. "I'm going to go talk to Grace about this, so don't you worry, okay?" She looks at me, her brows creased and her own eyes watery.
Grace is the head cheerleader of senior class and Alicia's big sister. Alicia looks up to her and always goes to her when she's in trouble. If anyone can get the popular sophomore girls under control, it's Grace. Knowing that Alicia will go talk to Grace and try to solve the problem eases my nerves a little.
I embrace her, whispering, "Thank you."
She pulls out of the embrace to look at me. "Alright, I'm going to go. Will you be okay here all by yourself? You can come with if you want."
Her sympathetic yet fierce eyes give me the willpower to stay here. If she's willing to fight for me, I don't need to run. I can be brave if she can. "It's okay. I'll be fine. Go."
She hesitates, then finally leaves at last. I glance back at the mirror. I wash off all that makeup and run some water over my puffy eyes. I don't bother to put any more makeup on. I don't need more of that stuff to irritate my eyes, and I've never looked too terribly awful without makeup. Besides, I don't care how I look right now. I'm just going outside to get some fresh air, and I don't intend to meet very many people along the way.
I take the least busy route to the grass field outside and hide my now infamous face behind my hair, looking down at the ground. I pass a couple classrooms and the unoccupied computer and science laboratories. I quietly push open the heavy doors and rush out into the open courtyard. And my stomach sinks. Because there is one person sitting on the grass field staring at me, a smirk upon his face.
And his name is Phoenix.
"Well, if it isn't the art club leader," Phoenix says, staring me down. "I figured you'd turn up here." I stare at him, frustrated and flustered. How did he know I was going to be here? And, oh God, does he already know my secret? My cheeks turn red at the thought. "Your friend Lola told me you come here when you've got a lot going on."
What? Why would Lola do that? Unless... she always has been a hopeless romantic. That's what drew me to her in the first place. She must foolishly be thinking that me meeting with Phoenix will somehow fix all my problems. I sigh. That silly girl has always had a lack of sense. She dreams too much, wishes things would happen too much and loses sight of reality. Oh well. I'll just have to lecture her about it later.
"...hello?" A hand waves before my eyes, which are focused on the ground. I look up, startled, to find Phoenix inches away from me. I jump back in shock from his closeness. I regain my composure, cross my arms across my chest, and deadpan, "What do you want?"
He rocks back and forth on his heels, hands behind his back, saying, "Oh, nothing much. Just wanted to see how my number 1 fan was doing." He stops, and a slow grin spreads across his face.
I narrow my eyes at him, focusing all my hatred towards him into that one stare.
"What?" he asks innocently.
"Do you enjoy torturing people, cause if so, I'm outta here," I mutter, tears starting to form in my eyes. I don't know why, but any time I'm under a lot of stress, I get emotional and start to cry. It's really frustrating because I was trying to stand up to him for once. He's one of the biggest bullies at school because he always torments girls when he finds out he doesn't like them. It's not enough for him to just say that he doesn't feel the same way. He always toys with their feelings and makes them feel worthless. It makes me sick.
He opens his mouth to reply, but I cut him off, tears running down my face like unstoppable rivers of pain, "Look. You made me cry. You happy now?"
I run back through the doors into the school again. I'm sure I look like a mess, but I don't care anymore. I don't want to miss class. I sprint back to my classroom, #115.
Oh, great. Here come the popular girls. "It's okay," I shout to them, my voice sounding funny from crying. "I already learned my lesson."
I sniffle and watch them approach, frozen in my tracks, ready to break down at any moment. Where I was expecting malice and hatred in their eyes, all I find is pity. "Aww, it's okay sweetheart, we won't hurt you."
"Really?" I ask, hope sounding in my clogged-up voice. Could these girls really have been nice all along and I didn't know it? Surely all I heard was rumors about them, right?
Their sympathetic faces quickly turn into scowls of disapproval and animosity. "Did you really believe the most popular sophomores in school would condone such an act of treachery?" squeaks one.
"Honestly, who do you think we are, some pathetic, nice girls?" squawks another.
They're closing in on me. I start to tremble, seeing their ruthless faces twisted with cruelty.
"Couldn't we let this one go, Ruth? It looks like she's had a long day," says one of them, a girl with brunette hair and amber eyes.
My eyes widen with hope. So there is light among the darkness. "Don't try to drag us down, Clarissa. If you don't want to do this, we don't need you in our group."
I flinch at Ruth's harsh words. "Fine, then," Clarissa responds. "I'm tired of you jealous bullies anyway." She promptly leaves nonchalantly like it was the most normal thing in the world.
I frown. This day just keeps getting weirder and weirder. "Don't you go dazing off on me!" Ruth shouts at me.
I wince at her loud words and quietly utter, "S-sorry."
"What was that?" asks another girl.
"Sorry!" I yell, nerves a wreck and bones trembling.
I hear a sudden whoosh, and an arm wraps around my waist. A low voice growls, "What are you girls doing to my girlfriend?"
Girlfriend? What? I don't recall ever leading anyone on, and I don't even know of anyone who likes me that way. My eyes snap up to look at this supposed "boyfriend" as I hear the sounding of the 6th period bell. I vaguely hear the popular girls’ receding footsteps, some mumbling about a 6th period test, and some vengeful threats or something, but my mind is too concentrated at the bigger issue at hand.
I twist back, eyes wide open and jaw lowered. W-what??? I blink my eyes to see if they're working properly. I flick my arm to make sure I'm not dreaming. No way. I must be hallucinating.
Why? you might ask. Because the girl tormentor, the guy who should hate me the most in the world, the guy who joined my art club for no good reason, the guy who teased me by showing up in the place I went to to calm down, and the guy who stole my heart
"Are you okay?" asks Phoenix, looking genuinely worried. Not that he truly feels that way. In fact, I know for certain he doesn't feel that way because he always tricks girls into thinking he likes them and then stamps on their hearts so forcefully that most of them never feel like trying to love someone ever again. It's one of the cruelest things you could do to someone in love, and it makes me sick.
To think that all my efforts to hide my feelings are now pointless... I'm doomed for sure. Unless...well, never mind that. I'm sure his feelings towards his "friends" are just as fake as everything else, right?
I think back to his smiling, laughing face I saw through the window earlier. There's no way. I squash the rising hope in my heart without another thought, shaking my head to clear it. There's no point in hoping when there's no chance.
I glance at his soft, amber eyes, so inviting and caring. No! I tear my eyes from his. What am I thinking? I can't let his eyes of all things pull me in. I can't let him trick me. I won't let him ruin me like the rest of them. I'll stand up to him like no one else could.
I stare daggers at his chin, avoiding his gaze, and state, "I'm not your girlfriend."
He grabs my chin and forces me to look at him. His lips are curled in a smirk, and his eyes stare into mine devilishly as though he is trying to work some sort of bad boy charm on me. Not that it isn't working.
My knees start to wobble in frustration and exhaustion. Running around school does sort of take a toll on you after a while.
Phoenix hugs me close to his chest where I can feel his heart throbbing against my own fast-pounding one. Something soft and feathery brushes my cheek, and before I know it, Phoenix is carrying me down the hallway and out the doors.
Before I have the chance to protest, I realize that I'm sideways, facing the sky, and that the clouds are looming ever closer.
Whoa! What on Earth? Am I - no he - is he flying!?
Clearly I truly am dreaming. Who knew I could come up with such wild fantasies? To think that I truly wanted Phoenix to hug me and drag me up into the sky...what sort of things does my subconscious exactly have in mind? Have I gone crazy or something?
Nonetheless, something doesn't feel right. If this were a dream, why is everything so detailed, so vibrantly real? In my dreams, all I've ever seen has been vague, as if my imagination has never been smart enough to come up with something that looks 100% real. Though I never realize it in my dreams, all that's carrying me through the dream is the sort of idea of what's going on around me, not what actually is. It's like my subconscious is such a mess that it brings me the weirdest dreams imaginable. I've only been lucid a couple times, and I never truly realized completely that I was lucid. I was just more aware than usual and could fly.
No, this doesn't add up. This can't be a dream. Then what on Earth could it be?
I'm jolted out of my thoughts by the feel of his warm voice against my ear. I realize that we've landed on some rooftop. Upon further scrutiny, I realize it's the school's. "You believe me now?"
My brows knit in confusion. "Do I believe you about what, being a phoenix? You never told me you were an actual bird," I say. I can't help but admire his broad, red-orange feathers, the same color as his fiery amber eyes that steal my breath when I look at them. This time I hold his gaze, determined not to let go.
His face relaxes into an easy smile. "Not that, about you being my girlfriend, silly."
Why does he look so utterly serious? And what am I supposed to think after he took me flying through the air onto our school's roof? I can't even process the fact that he's actually a literal bird, let alone the fact that he keeps calling me his girlfriend and that he's probably trying to trick me again.
"I am not your girlfriend," I yell. "So get it out of your head already. I'm not playing along in your stupid games, so get out of my life and stay out!"
I start walking away when I realize I'm on a roof, and I have no clue how to get down. Oh well. There's got to be some sort of stairway down somewhere.
The thing is, I've never been on the school roof. People have always stayed away ever since someone said there's this evil monster with terrific wings that supposedly is the reincarnation of some ghostly spirit that died here on this roof and comes back to haunt it or something. I don't really care. I just never came up here because there wasn't much use. Who needs a roof anyway when you got a perfectly good classroom to eat lunch in or a nice courtyard to relax in?
I look around for some sort of stairwell on the side of the building. "If you're looking for a stairway down, there is none."
I look back at him, annoyed, but don't say anything. This is great. Just great. I'm stuck on a roof and the only way to get down is if birdy boy here will give me a lift. No way. There's no way this is happening to me.
A moment ago, I was in my classroom thinking about my life, and the next my crush flies me up to the rooftop. Lucky me. I am seriously going to make Lola pay for this because her romantic whims got me into this awful situation. Right as I was going to move on with my life, she ended up bringing all my romantic problems to the surface. I know she meant well, but, gosh, this is not how I wanted things to go.
Before I know it, Phoenix grasps my hand and drags me to the roof's edge. His wings are folded behind his back, and he looks relaxed. He sits down on the cement, legs hanging off the side, and pulls me down next to him.
I open my mouth to protest, but his serious glance somehow seals it shut. Though I want to resist him and his ploys, I want, more than ever, to give in, to pretend like he does love me and enjoy that fantasy while it lasts. Though I know it would hurt me a ton when it’s over, I still crave it nonetheless.
I glance back at Phoenix, who looks deep in thought. “Do you know why I joined your art club?”
“To do art?” Obviously.
He snickers. “You thought I actually wanted to do art?”
I frown at him. “Isn’t that the whole purpose of joining a club? To do club activities?”
He laughs and shakes his head, then he stares at me. “You do realize that sometimes people join a club to spend time with someone else, right?”
“Yeah, sometimes. But I thought you hated girls?” I narrow my eyes at him, wondering what he’s getting at.
Phoenix’s eyes bore into mine, like he’s trying to find the answer to something. He chuckles. “You really are clueless.”
"What do you mean I'm clueless?" Why do I feel so ignorant, like he knows all the answers and I know nothing? I mean, I should be the one in the know here, not him. I know about his little schemes of deceit, so why do I still feel like I'm missing something?
Phoenix sighs and looks off into the distance. “It’s not that I hate girls. Yes, I don’t just reject them because I know that I would never be able to get them off my back otherwise.”
I look at him skeptically.
“It’s true! A lot of those girls are so obsessive that even if I said no, they’d still think that they have a chance, and then I’d literally have a billion girls stalking me and following me home from school.” Uh huh. “It’s true,” he says intently, holding my gaze. “You know, once back in kindergarten, I refused to give a definite answer to a close friend of mine who told me she liked me. I had no idea whether or not I liked her romantically, but by not rejecting her, all I did was lead her on and hurt her.” He looks down at his hands. “I didn’t want to hurt anyone ever again. So I promised myself I would always give a definite answer if anyone asked me.”
Oh no. Did my heart just soften? Nope. This is not how it’s going down. I won’t let his lies trick me into feeling sorry for him. There’s no way that story’s true...is there?
For some reason, my heart just can’t let go of the idea that he’s not a bad person after all, that he does care about people. Why? Why do I have to love him, of all people? I glance at him, at his ebony black hair, at his swirling eyes that blaze like fire, at his folded, gradient wings of feathers with a deep, dark red at their roots that gradually transforms into a bright orange at their tips.
They’re...so...soft. Once I realize I’ve been absentmindedly stroking them, I jerk my hand back. Phoenix grabs it and places it back on his wing, gently guiding it along his feathers. After a couple moments, the tension eases from my hand, he lets go, and I relax into the motion, feeling calmer than I've been all day.
He pulls my head onto his shoulder and continues his explanation, "Once I came to this school, lots of girls kept asking me out." I can hear his voice vibrating through his shoulder. It feels funny, but it's kind of soothing. "I would always tell them, 'No,' but I found that a lot of the time they didn't listen. It's like my words weren't reaching them, like they were going in one ear and out the other." He turns his head to look down at me and smiles. "Then I saw you." Huh? What do I have to do with this? "You were sitting on a bench reading a book and smiling to yourself. I was intrigued instantly. Before I knew it, I ended up toying with the obsessive girls' feelings to stop them from liking me, all so I could get closer to you." He looks away. "Little did I know that all I ended up doing was pushing you away and ruining your trust in me."
For some reason, the little voice inside me stays quiet. For some reason, it decides that it'll listen to him, that he's actually maybe telling the truth. For some reason, it doesn't doubt him.
He takes a deep breath before continuing, "By the time I realized it, it was already too late to stop. The girls never stopped confessing, despite how bad I might hurt their feelings. If they were persistent, I was persistent, too. The only way I could bring them back to reality was sometimes just to hurt them."
I stop petting him and push him away, glaring at him angrily. "That's no excuse!"
He winces, as though my words stung him. Serves him right after all the hearts he's broken. It's like my brain turns back on and the fog of his deceit has cleared. I'm no longer under his spell, and I'm furious. He was just about to break my heart. Angry tears threaten to burst from my eyes. I'd tried so hard. I'd wanted so bad to believe him, but he betrayed me. Like he betrayed all of the other girls.
As I look at his guilty, scared face, I see the truth, and I see it clear: Phoenix Wilson is nothing but a heartless heartbreaker.
I try to stand up, but my legs fail from under me, and I go toppling over the roof's edge. Green, grey, and tan rushes before my eyes as I plummet towards the ground.