1 | A TREAT AS IT IS A CURSE
Hi there. I decided to write my life story because, well, why not?
A fair warning, it is not all that pretty. I never asked for this life. I did not stay up in the middle of the night and wish for this lifestyle change. In the grand scheme of things you are born into your life plan. Sure, nurture beats nature in most things but nature played a sick game of cards too.
That warning? Here it is; Your parents told you all about Santa Claus and you felt that joy every year, even after you found out they made up a superior man with no tolerance for naughty children. You grew up with it, you became accustomed to it. You felt that damn joy.
It was a good lie. Sometimes lies are kinder than the truth.
The hidden truth was not kind to me. Still was not. It is scary and unpredictable. It holds adventure at every corner. I'm a second away from certain death most days, often life scraped by because of sheer dumb luck.
Again. Not kind. So, if you find yourself relating to this story of mine maybe little too much? Back away. Burn the book. Hide. The moment the full extent of the hidden truth is revealed to you, others become aware. Too aware. Be ready for to be hunted, because man, you are not the top of the food chain as you were led to believe.
Scared yet? If not, then great! Experience the true risky and vulnerable life of a semi-human through ratty old pages. Enjoy a hot chocolate. Grab a blanket. Get comfortable because this story, it is a long one.
My name? Emma Jackson, at your service.
I'm fifteen years old and until a few months ago I attended a boarding school called Yancy Academy, a private school for troubled kids in up-state New York with my brother, Percy.
Yes. You read that correctly. Troubled kids. Not disturbed, although some are. Am I troubled? A little bit, yeah. Is Percy? Most definitely.
I'm sure as hell not a Mary-Sue. This is my life story. I'm not a seemingly perfect fictional character so get that out of your head right now and you won't be sorely disappointed.
Got it? Okay. Moving on.
I could tell you all about my nightmare of a life. You could play sad music in the background and weep or cringe at the cliché dark past story. But, I figure things only got painfully bad when our school went on a school trip to Manhattan.
I guess you could say it was the start of the dismantling of the hidden truth.
Our small class of thirty and two teachers took a trip to Metropolitan Museum of Art. We were to look at ancient Greek and Roman history. It sounded interesting enough at the time, anything that appeared supernatural really intrigued me, but all of us cramped in a yellow bus for ages? It sounded like such fun.
Okay. Nah. Torture, morelike. Most Yancy field trips were, because of a certain red head. Let's not jump ahead though.
Mr. Brunner the Latin teacher joined us on the trip. Honestly, I expected it to be less agonising because of this very reason.
On the way into the city, Nancy Bobofit, the freckly, redheaded girl threw pieces of her peanut-butter and ketchup sandwich at the back of a new friend of mine's head, Grover.
Her friends laughed. But, there were people who looked at her with a weird glint in their eye, they did not so much pass judgement on Grover but on Nancy and her actions. Yet, they sat and did nothing. That was almost as bad.
Grover, he was an easy target. He was scrawny and quiet. When he became angry no one could tell because of the waterworks. If being a new kid was not enough of a reason to pick on him, the fact that he was crippled was. Something about a muscular disease. We did not speak of it much, to be honest. He tensed up when it was mentioned. I learned to let it go.
I clenched my jaw as Nancy managed to get yet another piece of sandwich thrownat Grover. It landed in his curly hair. She passed it along for another kid to do the honours.
She smirked at my glowering because she knew damn well I could not do a thing about it. Percy was on his final warning with the headmaster. Mom did not need yet another letter.
Besides, I'd be damned if I returned home to mom and told her the reason I got expelled was because of some 'peanut-butter incident'.
"I can't wait for this trip to be over," I mumbled, earning a strange look from Grover. So I explained, "I might not be able to do anything in school to her, but after..."
"It's fair game," the boy to our left finished for me.
"You've been looking forward to it for ages now. Just ignore them and..." Grover placed a hand on my arm. "No. You're not going to do anything. I mean, I like peanut-butter. If anything, this is the best trip I've been on, ever."
An open sandwich smacked right into Grover's face. The peanut-butter made the bread stick to his face. Red blotches of sauce splayed on his shirt.
"Best trip ever," I mocked under my breath. "Yeah, right."
The boy to the seat left of us made to get up. "That's it!" he growled.
Grover reached across the aisle and pulled him back down. "You're playing right into her hands," he told him with a shake of his head. "She's not the one on probation. She's not the one that will be blamed if anything happens. You are, Percy."
"I know." He sat back down, slumping back into the chair. "I know she's a girl. I know that. But I still really want to punch that smug look off of her face," he said through gritted teeth.
Grover looked panicked. "What? No! Percy! You can't!"
"Relax," Percy said quickly, noticing his friend's distress. "Like you said, I'm on my final warning. Blah. Blah. Blah." He rolled his eyes then his eyes gleamed. "Guess who isn't though?"
I nodded my confirmation, getting a grin from Percy. I then frowned, studying Nancy. "I swear she gains a freckle with every soul she taints."
"Well that's a theory." Grover licked his lips, gathering a blob into his mouth with a satisfied grin then his face dropped. "You can't punch that girl, Emma."
"It's not a theory," I said, casting the girl a cold smile. "It's the truth of the matter. If she does anything else I deem worthy of a punch, then well, who knows what will happen?"
"Oh come on. One field trip without you two causing world war three. Want to give that a shot?" Grover asked with a timid smile. "No unplanned swimming adventures or shooting canons into the buses. What do you say?"
"That was all Emma," Percy interjected.
"Not it wasn't," I denied. "You told me the canon didn't work. The instructor said it's just a prop." I mimicked him. "That was your fault."
He tried hard not to smirk. "Did I bomb the bus?"
"Who's on their final warning?" I asked him. He rolled his eyes at me. Grover looked at me expectantly. I rubbed my chin, pretending to contemplate his words. "We'll see."
He frowned. "That's not a yes."
"It's not a no either." I grinned.
"It's a maybe?"
I cocked my head to the side. "Sure. A maybe."
Honestly, if I had gone through with punching Nancy out, my story would have been so much different. Our story. Kicked out of the school and onto yet another. Yancy Academy, just another one of many failures.
Mr. Brunner led the museum tour and I did not want to get on his bad side. We walked along the aisles, following the wheelchair bound teacher past statues and other old stuff that I'm sure was interesting in its own right.
My classmates laughed and pointed out things they found weird. Mr. Brunner smiled, not really annoyed. With a look at him, you would not expect him to be so lenient, even cool in the eyes of some. His hair thinned and he wore these tweed jackets, reminding me of Indiana Jones for some odd reason.
He told stories, mystical ones. Stories told in such vivid detail that I swear he could have been at the scene itself. He became especially vibrant when he brought out the Roman armour and weapons he collected. He made stuff that I normally would have found boring, interesting.
We gathered around a thirteen-foot-tall stone column with a 'sphinx' on top. His spoke of the carvings. He spoke passionately. Well, I guessed. I could not hear a thing he said because of the constant whispering.
"Can you give it a rest already," I said, nudging Nancy right in the ribs.
Nancy clutched her side for a second before placing her hands on her hips. "Can you stop breathing already?" Then with a taunting smile she finished with, "Dyke."
I could not help it. My elbow had a mind of its own and whacked into her uncovered ribs again.
She gasped out a, "Mrs. Dodds!"
Of course the fifty year old leather wearing woman glared daggers at me, reminding me when she rode up to school on her first day on her roaring motorcycle and with her dead eyes made everyone shrink back in fear. Those eyes could not seem to drag themselves away from mine.
I could never stand down from a stare off.
And of course Nancy and Mrs. Dodds got on splendidly. They both had an opinion in common. That I was the spawn of satan himself.
"Emma, stop looking at her like that. It's making her crazy," Grover whispered, nodding his head in Mrs. Dodds direction. I continued to scowl. "Stop it."
I shoved him away. "You stop it."
"Guys..." Percy warned.
She crooked a finger at us, beckoning us to the side away from everyone else. "Now, honey," she said lightly, placing a hand on my collar. To others it looked like she fixed it. Reality? She coiled it tightly. "You best be quiet. You don't want to ruin it for everyone else, do you?"
My nostrils flared as I tried to keep my temper in check. Her lips were curled up into a purple sneering mess and her laboured breathing made me extremely uncomfortable.
I suddenly had the urge to wallop her.
"Of course we'll be quiet, miss." Grover pushed me away before I did or said something I would regret. "We're sorry for interrupting."
Once out of her hearing range I let out a heavy breath. "She is so not human."
Grover looked at me, real serious and said, "You're absolutely right."
"Now look who's talking," Nancy hissed, halting her snickering at the naked guy on the stele.
I heaved a sigh. "Seriously. Will you shut up?"
Obviously I had intended for it to be a harsh whisper of some sort. However, it came out much louder that I expected. Nancy's face reddened and the whole group glanced at us and laughed, making Mr. Brunner stop talking of his story.
Percy grinned to my side, glad he was not the one caught this time. "Someone's in trouble."
"Ms. Jackson," Mr. Brunner said, rather calmly. He glanced between Grover, Nancy and I before he continued, "do you have a comment you wish to share?"
I pursed my lips, knowing full well he saw that Nancy spoke first. "No, sir."
Mr. Brunner frowned, clearly displeased. He pointed to a singular picture on the stele. "Perhaps you can tell us what this picture represents?"
I looked at the carving and held back a victorious smile. "Kronos, he was the youngest of the first generation of Titans. He's eating his children."
"Yes," Mr. Bruner said, pausing for a second. "He did this because?"
"Well he overthrew his own father in the... Golden age?" I asked, Mr. Brunner nodded for me to continue. "Well he knows familial ties doesn't mean squat compared to power. He didn't trust his own kids, the gods. His wife hid Zeus and Kronos ate a rock in his place. Zeus tricked Kronos into vomiting up his siblings."
"And we think the Kardashians are the family to watch," Percy mumbled to my right. "This is proper family drama, right here."
I flashed Percy a smile and tried not to get sidetracked. "So basically history repeated itself. Children overtook their father's rule."
People still laughed, not getting over the vomiting fiasco. Especially Percy, his face grew purple because of his lack of breathing.
Nancy shoved her shoulder into me as she turned to talk to a friend. "Our parents ground us. Oh! I know how to solve the problem. I'll pledge a war." She scoffed. "How is any of this useful for us to know?"
"And why, Ms. Jackson," Mr. Brunner addressed me once more, "to paraphrase Ms. Bobofit's excellent question, does this matter in real life?"
"Well she got called out, huh?" Grover muttered with an impish grin.
"Shut up, weirdo," Nancy hissed, her face matched her hair. "At least I have friends to speak to."
Percy snickered. "Why did the tomato blush?" he asked, glancing between Nancy and Grover. When all Nancy did was sneer, he continued, "because she saw the salad dressing."
I smiled a little at Grover's silly smile and Nancy's petulant scowl. At least in my line of questioning, Mr. Brunner caught her out too. He somehow always managed to catch the sly comments.
I cleared my throat as I thought about the question. "I don't know. Maybe that blood relation doesn't equate to automatic trust. Or it shouldn't, at least."
"I see." Mr. Brunner looked disappointed.
Grover whacked his shoulder against mine. "You okay?"
"Asks the guy with peanut-butter in his hair." I looked him up and down. "And ketchup colouring his shirt."
He held up his hands. "A treat as it is a curse."
"Well, to wrap this up," Mr Brunner said, "Zeus did indeed feed Kronos a mixture of mustard and wine, which made him disgorge his other five children. They grew in his stomach. The immortal gods defeated their father by using his own scythe again him and proceeded to scatter his remains in Tartarus, the darkest part of the underworld."
"Ew, mustard," Nancy grumbled, scrunching up her nose. "Worse than throwing up children."
I gave her a hard look. "You ate peanut-butter and ketchup. You can't say anything." I smirked a little. "I wouldn't be surprised if you start to throw up dolls."
"On that happy note," Mr. Brunner said, clapping his hands. "It's time for lunch. Mrs. Dodds, would you lead us back outside?"
The class went off. Girls giggled at the stories and naked statues. Nancy complained that her stomach was in knots because of 'mustard', and the guys, well they shoved each other around.
Grover called me to follow but Mr. Brunner said, "Ms. Jackson."
For some reason, I knew to stay back.
"Go ahead, Grov," I said, then turned to Mr. Brunner. "Sir?"
Mr. Brunner stared right into my own eyes. His brown eyes had many shades, like each lifetime he gained a new shade to add to his collection. His life experience seemed so very vast and widespread.
"You must learn the answer to my question," Mr. Brunner told me. "About real life. And how your studies apply to it."
"Sure," I said offhandedly. "Deception of people you should or do trust and all that."
He did not appear amused. "What you learn from me is vitally important and I expect you to treat it as such. I will accept only the best from you, Emma Jackson."
He always said the same thing. He always wanted so much from me. Too much. I, being the procrastinator that I was would never live up to his expectations. Did I want to? What about what I wanted? Did that not count too? Did it matter?
He praised other children, but then he would turn to me. Mr. Brunner's eyes always held a challenge. 'Can you do it? Can you do better?'
The problem with teachers is not knowing when not to push. He expected me to be like everyone else. Let's have a pop quiz, he'd announce on a random morning. Lets check to see if you remember the different names and places of the Greeks and Romans, kid that has dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. Let's see if you're actually trying, huh?
He would be okay if he expected me to be a normal every day student, anything that was above a grade C, but he expected too much. He expected better and I had nothing better to give.
"I'm sure it is, Mr. Brunner," I said, swallowing the lump in my throat. "But respectfully sir, there's only so much effort that can be put in without a breakdown. I know my limits."
I did not give him a chance to say anything else. I would not have wanted him to. He looked up and above my shoulder with one of the most expressive sad eyes.
2 | THE DITZ WHO GETS KILLED AT THE VERY BEGINNING
I joined the class outside. Hardly anyone noticed my absence. They just sat on the steps and ate their packed lunches and took pictures of the pigeons squawking on the side walk. Nancy strutted up and down the steps on the furthest right as her friends watched, applauding her efforts on her attempt at mimicking a model.
Percy sat by me on the edge of the steps. "What did he want?"
"To emphasise an important life lesson, apparently," I answered. "And no, I'm not in trouble. At least I don't think I am."
"Right." Percy was used to it. He sometimes got the same 'pep talks' as me. He looked up to the sky and frowned. "I guess Donald Trump is wrong. Global warming is so not a concept just made up by the Chinese. I mean come on, New York's weather has been bizarre since Christmas."
"...I can't believe that guy is our president."
Percy chuckled. "Hate is always going to be in the world, Emma. Just there was a lot more hate in America than we thought."
Percy was right in both aspects. People were spiteful and bigoted. The weather had been abnormal. Clouds were draped in dark cloaks. Lightning struck in the distance with a distant thunderous sound a few seconds before each strike.
Grover sat by the water fountain, once he caught sight of us he waved us over away from the others.
When I sat by him he asked, "Detention?"
"No," I said, rolling my eyes. "Just Mr. Brunner saying the same old things. Anyway, I would have dragged Tomato face down with me if I got detention."
He furrowed his eyebrows, then a look of realisation dawned on him. "Yeah, I heard what she called you. I'm sorry."
"What did she say?" Percy asked, munching on an apple.
Grover opened this mouth to answer but I have him a warning look. "Just the usual, Percy," I answered.
Percy nodded and took another bite of his apple. Grover just gave me a look that spelled out that he understood but still was concerned.
I looked away from him and out onto the street. As I watched the cars drive by, my stomach knotted with anxiety as it always did when I thought about mom and little Jasmine. I could have hopped onto a bus and be at their apartment in twenty minutes tops. I could have seen both of them and hugged them. But then I would see mom's happy smile slowly fade as she pushed for me to go back to school, boarding school.
I understood that Percy and I were handfuls growing up, especially at school. Being a single mom did not help. I always thought that parents should not have kids if they were only to ship their children off to boarding school. I still thought that sometimes. What was the point?
Did she plan to send Jasmine off too? I never got around to asking her. Somehow I knew I would not be able to control my facial expression and she would see right through me, to how I really felt about our arrangement. I'm sure she knew, anyway, but to see it? No thank you.
I was brought out of my thoughts when Mr. Brunner glided down a ramp and expertly span to avoid a trash can.
With Percy taking yet another bite out of his apple, I went to eat my own lunch only to see the plastic box gain a darker shade. I looked up, Nancy stood in front of me with a sickeningly wide smile.
"Hello," she greeted, rocking back and forth on her heels. She twisted the fork in the lunchbox that contained pasta. When no one replied right away she sighed. "Knock knock. Is anyone going to bother to answer the freaking door?"
What were we? The three little pigs?
Percy ignored her and kept eating.
Grover's shoulders hunched over. He offered a small, "Hi."
I was not as great at small talk as my counterparts. "What do you want, Nancy?"
Her attempt to smile innocently actually made me want to vomit.
"Nothing really, I just came to say hi." She brought the fork up to her mouth but twirled it at the last second so the clump of pasta flew onto Grover's face. "And I've said my hello. I best be off now."
Honestly, I can not recall what happened next. I was too busy trying to think happy thoughts like brownies and puppies, even rainbows. I tried thinking of sheep jumping over a fence and counting them. I tried to calm the hell down.
What I do recall was my lunchbox landed on Percy's lap and somehow I ended up being the one that stood up and Nancy happened to be spurting water from her mouth from within the fountain.
"My-my shoes," Nancy gasped out with wide eyes. Her eyes narrowed on me. "Emma assaulted me!" she screeched. "Mrs. Dodds! Come quick! This imbecile physically assaulted me because of my political beliefs! This is discrimination!"
Mrs. Dodds somehow popped out of nowhere and grabbed my upper arm.
Then the whispering started.
"Did you see the water?"
"What a freaksho-"
"This is so going on snapchat."
All I could do was groan. I did not know what exactly happened but all I knew was I did not want it to spread online.
Mrs. Dodds let go of my arm and offered a hand out to Nancy. Once out of the fountain Nancy whipped her hair back and forth, essentially drowning the ketchup and pasta off of Grover.
"You're fine, dear," Mrs. Dodds said to Nancy before turning toward me. "Now honey-" her voice slithered.
"I'm innocent! Totally innocent," I interrupted, lifting my hands up as if that would prove something. "She flung herself in there like a ragdoll. Besides, she also flung her food all over Grover."
Well I hoped she did it to herself anyway.
"Well there's your motive, you silly girl." Mrs. Dodds smiled in response, officially freaking me out. "Come with me, Ms. Jackson."
I was shoved aside. "No!" Grover yelped, gaining a death glare from Mrs. Dodds. "Emma's innocent. It was my motive. She didn't push Nancy. I did."
Both Percy and I stared at him, completely bewildered. Grover usually did not stand up for himself, nevermind anyone else. Grover always complained of goosebumps when Mrs. Dodds grinned.
She cocked her head to the side, retaining her death glare. "Mr. Underwood," she said lowly, making his lower lip tremble. "I think you're lying."
"No, Mr. Underwood," she said, her voice sharp. "You will not defy me. Stay here."
Grover looked like he was about to cry.
Percy just looked plain confused.
I offered Grover my best smile and said to Mrs. Dodds, "No one pushed her, especially not Grover. Ask anyone."
"Honey," Mrs. Dodds barked at me, but at the same time she looked satisfied with my response. "Let's go, now."
Nancy looked up from wringing her hair out and smirked at me. Grover stared over my shoulder and Percy's fists were clenched but his eyes stared down at his feet. I did not want Nancy the delight of my inner wish to kill her so I continued to smile my honest to God best smile.
She shrank back, looking freaked out, making my smile even more manic.
When I turned to face Mrs. Dodds she was not there. I looked to where Grover eyes peered at and there she stood, already up the steps at the museum's entrance. I blinked a few times, totally confused.
"Em," Grover said, looking like he was about to cry. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"Over dramatic much?" Nancy laughed.
I ignored her and waved him off. "It's okay. She has no proof, Grov. Besides, what's the worst thing that can happen?"
I must have zoned out longer than I thought because Mrs. Dodds waved me over impatiently. Sometimes I wondered if I was crazy. I felt like my eyes were always two steps behind transferring images to my brain.
So I went after Mrs. Dodds, trying to ignore the image of an anxious Grover in my head. I could not shake it. His face had grown pale and his eyes kept darting back and forth between Mrs. Dodds and Mr. Brunner, like he was some sort of saviour.
I tore my gaze away from Mr. Brunner who spoke to a student with a soft smile, totally engaged in their conversation. Mrs. Dodds disappeared again.
She tapped her foot impatiently against the ground by the gift shop.
Once I reached her I scowled. "I'm not wasting a dime on that girl."
She sneered at me. "Of course not."
With an acute spin of heels, she stalked down the hallway. She led us back to the Roman and Greek section. We walked until she stood in front of the Greek gods. A low rumble escaped her lips as she crossed her arms. Her face was full of utter disdain as she glanced up at the statues.
In that split second my mind jumped to every other time Mrs. Dodds gave out to me. Not once were we alone. Except right at that moment, in the huge hall? We were all alone.
"Your deception has been revealed, Mrs. Jackson," she said, mindlessly flicking her thumb nail. Her very pointed thumbnail.
I almost smiled. I felt like Matilda under Ms. Trunchbull's accusing gaze.
I amused myself by saying, "I didn't do it."
"Now honey." Yeah, she did not look as amused as I was. If anything, her dead eyes looked pure evil. "You must have thought it could only go on for so long. Did you really think you would get away with it?"
Okay, now she was not making any sense.
"Mrs. Dodds," I said carefully, mindful of the fact that she kind of hated my guts. "Nancy is the girl who cried wolf."
Her eyes flickered. I could not pinpoint the change but her stature appeared different. Thunder shook the building. Honestly it felt like a horror movie, all alone with a teacher who looked demonic, friends cast aside because of the power of position and eerie weather?
Yup. I was so in a horror movie.
The ditz who gets killed at the very beginning. I'm not even a main character, just a tool to set the play in motion.
I let out a scoff at my thoughts.
"We are not fools, Emma Jackson," Mrs. Dodds voice boomed. "It was only a matter of time before we found you out. Confess," she hissed. "Confess and you will suffer less pain."
"Less pain?" My eyes bulged.
This was over the top, even for Mrs. Dodds. I jumped to the conclusion that this was not just about what happened to Nancy. I could not remember doing anything remotely worthy of well, torture, as she made it clear that was in her plans.
She flicked her nail again. "Well?"
"Uh," I stuttered. "This isn't the nineteen seventies, corporal punishment isn't a thing anymore. You know, the eighth amendment?"
"You dare..." she hissed looking positively offended. "Your time is up, Emma Jackson. Prepare to meet your end."
I could have sighed in relief. This was totally a dream. I was so sure of it.
Her normal dead eyes oozed with what I guessed was blood. The nails she kept flicking turned into a huge claw, like a claw of an eagle. Of course her everyday jacket melted and became some sort of weird leathered wings. Of course I'd have a nightmare about that ugly jacket. Her normal yellow teeth enlarged.
I pinched myself as the non human- thing stood in front of me, ready to rip my throat out.
But, I did not wake up.
Behind me a click could be heard, making me wince. Another person with a habit of flicking their nails? I glanced over my shoulder. It was a weird sight. Mr. Brunner rolled up on his wheelchair, with a pen in his hand.
Not a second later he flung it in my direction. "What ho, Emma!"
At the same time a whip of wind close to my ear slashed and I grabbed the damn pen as an automatic response, rolling to the side. Only it was not a pen. It was a freaking sword. A bronze sword. The sword he always showed us in class. His prized possession.
"Strangest dream ever," I murmured.
Mrs. Dodds's teeth sunk into her bottom lip, puncturing it yet nothing seeped out.
I clenched the sword in my hand.
She opened her mouth, leaving a hole in her lip. "Die, honey."
Her wings pushed down with force and she let out a screech.
I also screeched out of sheer bloody terror and did the only thing I could have, I swung the stupid sword.
The sword managed to clip her shoulder. It was like throwing a pebble into a lake. It sunk straight down effortlessly.
I coughed as a yellow powder replaced Mrs. Dodds. Her screeched echoed against the four walls of the building. When all I could hear was my breathing I turned to Mr. Brunner.
He was not there.
I turned back around and the powder? Gone.
The sword? A ballpoint pen.
Me? Well, I was all alone.
I walked back outside, clicking the pen nervously in my hand.
Grover and Percy still sat by the fountain. Percy still had my lunchbox on his lap, he stole my grape and threw it in the air for him to catch. Grover laughed at his failure.
Nancy caught my eye and walked until she stood in front of me. "Oh isn't this just wonderful." She giggled with a wide grin. "Mrs. Kerr must have given you a hell of a giving out to. Look how pale you are."
I blinked. "Who?"
"Mrs. Kerr," she repeated, looking at me like I was stupid. "Our teacher."
Mrs. Kerr? "Nancy, did you hit your head?"
She rolled her eyes. "I should be the one asking you that. But I don't exactly care to."
With a flip of her hair, she walked away.
Grover looked just as confused as Nancy did when I asked about Mrs. Dodds.
I nodded to myself. This was a joke. He had paused. Percy was a lousy liar. "Percy, come on. Where is she?"
"Emma, you're acting really weird," he said, actually looking concerned. "Oh I get it. Is this a ploy to go back home? That's a new one."
"What the hell," I muttered, noticing his genuine confusion. "This isn't funny, guys. Not funny at all."
At Percy's perplexed look, I dodged his hand that aimed for my forehead and frowned. Mr. Brunner still spoke to the girl, looking as engaged as ever. Like he never left in the first place.
I went over to him, my heart racing at this point.
Just as I was about to ask him, he plucked the pen right out of my hands. "Ah, that would be my pen. Please bring your own writing utensil in the future, Ms. Jackson."
I stared at the pen for a moment, before shaking my head. "Right. Okay, sorry. Where's Mrs. Dodds?"
He stared at me blankly. "Who?"
I could not contain my groan. "The teacher who accompanied us on this trip, sir."
He frowned and sat forward, looking just as concerned as Percy did. "Emma, there's no Mrs. Dodds on this trip. As far as I know there has never been a Mrs. Dodds at Yancy Academy. Are you feeling alright?"
He was a new teacher yet he said with certainty 'never'.
I tried to smile, but I'm sure it came out as a grimace of some sorts. "I'm fine. Maybe I had a little too much sun."
Yet the sun stayed hidden behind the clouds.
"Yes," he murmured. "That must be it."
3 |IMITATION, ASSAULT AND EXPULSION
"Do you think maybe Mr. Thompson will forget about the test?" Percy asked, smiling a hopeful smile at Grover.
"Maybe," Grover replied, looking unconvinced by his own words. "Maybe not?" Percy's face dropped, making Grover look just as put out as he was. "Why? Did you not study?"
"It really doesn't matter if I did or not. It's always the same result anyway." Percy let out a groan and let his head read against the table. "I did study though. I've done the extra problems. I practised. It doesn't mean I got the right answers." He shrugged helplessly. "But I tried. To Mr. Thompson, that will mean nothing."
Grover winced at his friend's admission.
Honestly I did too. I knew exactly what he meant. No matter how hard we tried, we would not amount to the expectations given to us. He would get through it. He would be disheartened for a while, but he would get through it.
"Don't stop trying, man," Grover said, trying to sound optimistic. "That would suck if you didn't come back here next year. I need you around."
"I won't stop," Percy sighed out. "It still sucks though."
"Yeah." Grover stared up at the ceiling. "It does."
The plate on the table was full to the brim with food. I moved it every so often with my fork, making it look like some had been eaten. I did not eat breakfast that morning either, I lacked appetite from my shortage of sleep.
Percy chomped down his food, leaving trails of gravy on either side of his lips, worries forgotten for a moment. Usually I would have the urge to make fun of him or at least be irritated by the sight, but I did not feel or do either.
That required effort, effort required energy and energy required sleep.
It was official. I had gone crazy.
Ever since I pulverized Mrs. Dodds with a sword, nothing had felt right. As the weeks went by, I resided myself in thinking, maybe I had some sort of nightmare that altered my memory somehow. Maybe the breakdown from Mr. Brunner's pressure finally happened.
Perhaps Emma Jackson finally snapped.
I mean, everyone babbled on and on about the teacher, Mrs. Kerr, the woman who hopped on the bus at the end of the field trip. I never saw that women before the moment she called for us to get on the bus. Never. Yet everyone else had. Everyone else except me.
Again, all alone, just like after I murdered my teacher. Or imagined it. Still alone either way.
Testing Percy once again I said, "Now honey," real sweetly and used a napkin to wipe his mouth. "Don't want to ruin your shirt, do we?"
A shudder went through his body and goosebumps rose on his arms. They vanished as quickly as they appeared. I knew I perfected Mrs. Dodds mannerisms when Grover's bottom lip involuntarily trembled. Gotcha.
"You know," Percy said, stabbing a potato. He brought it up to his mouth and held it there. "You've been off since that field trip, right? You've been avoiding us."
Grover added, "And you have been all silent and broody too."
"More like everyone else has been off," I muttered, resisting the urge to throw my food at him. At Percy's confused look I responded, "Have I?"
Grover seemed to hear my first statement as his mouth gaped open for a second. He shook his head and pretended to be occupied by scooping up some mash.
Percy tried licking away the gravy. "Yeah, you have. Any reason why?"
Of course I had. I could have been dangerous. Perhaps I hallucinated the sword and Mrs. Dodds turning into some monster. Maybe I killed her with a ballpoint pen.
It was all maybe this and maybe that, but I could not take any chances. Even if I did not kill her, my hallucinations still meant I could have been a threat to someone.
"No. No reason. I didn't notice. I'm sorry." I sighed, tired. I used to think Percy was a lousy liar. I began to think he was actually an expert at it. Did they both want me to go insane? It felt like it. "What do you mean off?"
"You're acting different. Strange." He placed his fork on the table and stared at me, cocking his head to the side. "Are you mad at Grover? You usually don't hold grudges for this long."
Grover's eyes averted from mine and back down to his plate. He too had not eaten much. I let myself stare at him, watching with amusement and mild concern with the sheen of sweat that started to form on his forehead.
I looked away from him and tried to ignore Percy intense stare and replied with a simple, "Nope. I'm not mad."
"Well he seems to think so," Percy said, nudging Grover lightly.
"You don't need to speak for him, Percy. I don't bite." Unless my hallucinations turned him into brownie or something. I looked back to Grover. "Is there a reason I should be angry?"
He wiped his forehead with the end of his sleeve and shrugged lamely. He paused. "I don't think so..."
I sipped on my bottled water, not all that thirsty. Just like every other time I referenced Mrs. Dodds or replicated her creepy ways, I received the same look as always, 'Are you crazy?'. Even after the topic changed, Percy could not change the question that reflected from within his eyes.
Percy still thought I acted strangely, even if his body reacted for a split moment, his mind obviously did not. Perhaps it was my creepiness rather than a reminder of Mrs. Dodds's. Maybe I freaked him out.
Mrs. Dodds, you spiteful hag, where the hell are you? Weeks had gone by and any one else would have given up already. I almost did.
However, Grover kept my spirits up that I was not all that crazy. Each and every time I randomly brought up Mrs. Dodds he paused. He sweated. He became nervous. Every time he lied, he just had to pause. It was his tell. He would claim that she never existed, just like Mr. Brunner, except he could not pull it off like him, like everyone else.
Pushing my plate to the side, I laid my head against the table.
Obsessive. I was completely obsessed, but how could I not be?
Even at night the vision of Mrs. Dodds pitch black eyes and huge claws that nearly struck me invaded my dreams. Each time she popped up, I awoke and did not fall back asleep.
Hence my crankiness.
Twisting my head so I could see the pair, I asked, "Do you think dreams can replicate reality? Or maybe the better question is, do you think dreams can be stored as a memory? Memories?"
They both blinked at me. When I just stared back it seemed to snap them out of their stupor.
"Well yeah," Percy answered slowly. "It depends on what you mean. I have a bunch of anxiety exam dreams. Sometimes I think we have something assigned to do, but it was actually some twisted dream."
Noticing Grover did not plan to say anything, I asked him right out, "What about you Grover? Do you think dreams can be saved as memories? Tricking us into believing, say a person was real?"
"Well," he said slowly. He chewed on his lower lip. "You can't make up a person's face. You had to have seen them before, if they look like a stranger, maybe you saw them in passing one time."
I pressed, "Do you think dreams can make you remember a relationship with a stranger, then? Events, conversations, the whole lot?"
"I don't know." He looked extremely uncomfortable.
Percy stopped Grover's fidgeting hand. "This is what I mean, Emma. You're so strange all of a sudden."
I smiled half heartedly. "Some people find strange interesting, Percy. Don't you?"
He grinned at my light heartedness. "Nah. I'll try to though?"
"Oh that's such an imposition, right?"
Of course Percy looked confused and Grover, well I could not pinpoint his emotions any more. They seemed too erratic and honestly, at that point I started to give up with trying to figure him out.
I thought if my questions sounded crazy and absurd enough, he would feel guilty and tell me the truth. Apparently he had resolve of steel.
Maybe he just did not care about me.
The bell rang and we said goodbyes as we headed to our individual classes.
"Good luck," I called out to Percy. "Just try your best."
He glanced over his shoulder and tried to smile. Obviously he failed. "Thanks, I'll need it."
I wanted to assure him that he would not, that he would fly it. But that would be lying and I did not like liars.
Rain lashed against the windows of the building and wind howled. You could see the vibrations of the glass. It had been a constant depressive weather since the field trip, even venturing outside of New York. Tornadoes, storms, reports of missing ships in the oceans. It had gone chaotic.
It almost set the mood for most of my days. Questioning my sanity and being cooped up indoors? Not a great mood setter. Not a great combination at all.
There were some available seats in the English class near the front so I sat there. My bag thudded against the ground as I slumped into the chair.
Mr. Nicoll started the class straight away, ordering for us to take out the play; 'King Lear'. He assigned each character a person to read their part and of course I got Edmund, my favourite character because of how manipulative he was.
I tried to follow along as everyone read but I got completely lost. Nancy sped through her part, casting a knowing look in my direction. The conversation flowed too quickly and the words escaped my grasp. The letters were sucked into a whirlwind and spat out in an unordered form.
Obviously the classroom became silent when I did not read my part.
"Ms. Jackson, why can you never pay attention?" Mr. Nicoll snapped, huffing in annoyance. "Wake up child!"
Nancy giggled. "Haven't you heard, sir? She has sexdaily." At the snorts of laughter she excused herself. "Oh shoot, I meant dyslexia."
I shot a glare at Nancy. I couldn't really blame the class for laughing. It was one of her more original jokes at my expense, after all.
"Enough." Mr. Nicoll stopped the laughter and frowned. "At least give it an attempt, Ms. Jackson. I can't give you participation points if you don't. It will affect your grade tremendously."
I looked down to the page and tried to find at least the right dialogue but I could not. It was like the letters danced and twirled just to taunt me.
Groaning in frustration, I said, "I'm sorry. I can't."
"You did not even attempt it," he claimed, fixing his glasses to fit on his nose properly. "I had no idea just how lazy this generation has become. You're given a great opportunity that some people don't have and you waste it away."
I zoned out. But his words kept on rattling in the background. My nails dug into my palm. Of course with Mr. Nicoll still ranting and raving about my lack of effort, students around me began to whisper, only making it harder for me to gain control of my thoughts.
I just had to say something. Anything. Something to shut him up.
"...You know what they say. Those who can't do, teach. Such a waste of an opportunity, huh?"
"That's it!" Mr. Nicoll roared, startling everyone. Even me. "Out! Get out of my classroom! Be expecting a phone call to your parents, girl."
My hands shook as I grabbed my bag and slung it across my shoulder. I snatched the book from the table and began to stalk out of the classroom.
"Finally," Nancy said loudly enough for her circle to hear. "They treat the special students like they're made of freaking glass. They get away with murder."
"I know right," a friend of hers agreed with her.
I winced. Yellow dust appeared behind closed eyes.
"Mr. Nicoll's has the right idea. I mean, I know she has gone a bit loopy. Like Mrs. Dodds? An imaginary friend at this age? Weirdo, anyone? Equality for all students. Same punishments and same treatment. It's only fair."
Again, I lost control of my arm and clipped the back of Nancy's head with my King Lear book.
"Ow!" she hissed. "What the hell?"
"Equity over equality, Nancy," I called over my shoulder, ignoring the shouting of Mr. Nicoll and ignoring the screech of Nancy's rage.
Now that made me stop. I did not turn to face him when I said, "Yes?"
"Don't you dare come back into this classroom again. Do you hear me?"
I smiled a little to myself. "Gladly."
Of course the headmaster sat me down in his office as he wrote a letter to mom, declaring I would not be invited back next year to Yancy Academy. That was fine. Great even. I went through the motions and listened to his lecture on assaulting Nancy and showing no respect for authority figures.
I was in better spirits on the way back to my dorm room, being able to breath without getting glared at and all. That was until I noticed a figure standing by my bedroom door, waiting for me.
A wave of guilt hit me. If I did not return, Percy most likely would not either. Mom would not split us up.
"It' nothing new, right?" I asked, casually. I walked by him, not really looking at him and into my room. He followed after me with a bag, full to the brim with books.
He shrugged a little and sat down on my computer chair. "No. I guess not."
Percy silently pulled out some books and placed them on the table. His eyes darted across the page for a few minutes, too fast to be able to read or absorb anything, before he sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose.
Pursing my lips, I managed to get out an, "I'm sorry."
"I know." He smiled at me, letting me know he in fact did not blame me. "It was just a matter of time. I honestly thought it would have been me, with the last warning and all."
Slumping on the bed allowed for a good view out of the dorm window. Trees rocked just a touch back and forth, not enough to worry about. The smell of the pine trees always wafted through my room, it was a comforting smell.
My eyes dropped to my hands. I would miss Grover, even if he did go about things in an odd way. I would miss how Percy and I had gotten closer because of our friendship with Grover. We never shared a friend before because the concept of separate lives was important to us. Our own identities and all that.
"I'll miss Grover," I admitted, glancing at Percy apologetically. "I really will."
He tapped his fingers against the table. "Same," he replied, staring at one spot on the floor. "...You've been strange."
I agreed with an, "I know."
"Are you homesick?" he asked, a knowing glint in his eye. "I worry about her too. Both of them. But, mom knows how to keep herself busy. You know that."
"A little," I admitted. "I didn't mean for this to happen though. If you're implying I planned for this? I didn't," I told him and he looked convinced. "How do you think she'll react?"
"The same way she always does," Percy answered with a rueful grin. "With some brownies."
True. As usual when one or both of us got kicked out of our school, she welcomed us home with a warm hug. We'd spend a lot of time together, with a kick ass set of brownies before she needed to discuss the next move. Our options of schools.
Pulling my own books, we studied in silence for a while. I tried Latin because well, guilt consumed me. Maybe it was shame. Either way, it was not a pleasant feeling.
Mr. Brunner always had so much faith in me and I had let him down. I would still be doing the Latin test, so I decided what the hell? Maybe one last hurrah for the only person who seemed to want me to do better than I expected of myself. He had faith and and I was envious of that sentiment.
Then of course the silence was interrupted with Percy throwing his book across the room, landing on top of my bed. The sheets he stuffed into the book flew everywhere, raining down on me.
He stood up abruptly and pulled on his black hair. "How am I supposed to remember the difference between Chiron and Charon, or Polydictes and Polydeuces? What's the point in even trying?"
Then he started pacing the room, making the small piece of concentration I managed to build up, fade away.
Now I remember why I never studied with Percy. His panic was contagious.
I took a deep breath. I picked up my mythology book and went for the door.
"Where are you going?" Percy asked, looking positively out of it.
"Your freak out is making me freak out a little," I admitted, making him take on a sheepish smile. "I'm just going to pop down to Mr. Brunner's office, get some last minute tips, see what I can get out of him."
"Okay," he mumbled. "Okay. You do that and..."
"I'll probably take a nap."
I scoffed. "Enjoy. Set an alarm though, kay?"