A/N: New and improved plot, lovelies.
So, with my deepest and humblest apologies, I'm giving you the first three chapters, all at once.
I like this plot, even though I don't really know where it ends, or what to do with it.
Maybe you guys can help…?
(Uck. The beginning came out terrible.)
Disclaimer: Psh. (Quote is from the novel My Sister's Keeper, by Jodi Picoult. BEST BOOK EVER READ IT.)
WARNINGS: This applies to the fic in general. There will be drug implications, but implications only. No use. There will be violence. And general shadiness. Angst. Others.
f a d e
C h a p t e r O n e
When I look up the girl who works at the Laundromat is standing over me, with her lip ring and blue streaked dreadlocks. "You need change?" she asks.
To tell you the truth, I'm afraid to hear my own answer.
the boy that is only air
The first time I experienced death was when I was eleven. I was sitting on the stoop of my apartment building, watching nameless strangers pass and trying to guess their secrets.
That one, the teenager with shaggy hair that kept wincing every time a car honked or a child screamed, was either a tourist or suffering from a hangover. The older woman with the indentation on her leather belt from a handgun that's no longer there was a retired police officer. The toothpick-shaped man across the street who's holding flowers was pining after a beautiful Italian model that was too self-absorbed to return any affection.
And suddenly, a little girl stopped few feet away. Ragged and worn in a way only adults should be.
She had collapsed onto her knees, I remember, tearing her black stockings and sobbing like it would make her life a little less miserable.
I had walked over to her, a little unsure as all preteens are, meeting her at eye level when I kneeled next to her. The crowd split and surrounded us, an ocean parting.
Some businessman decked in an Armani suit, chatting away on some expensive looking cell phone bumped me with his briefcase as he passed, and scowled at me like it was my fault. I ignored him. The girl was still crying, and I reached out a hand tentatively.
"Hey," I had said. "What's wrong? Where are your mommy and daddy?"
At that, her drowning gasps had increased tenfold, and she began rocking back and forth.
I was about to go get an adult, someone with enough sense to handle something like this, when she finally spoke up.
"Daddy says Mommy's gone and she's never coming back," she choked, scratchy-voiced.
The little girl had hair that shined like spun gold, and skin like milk. Her dress, it was a dark, dark green, whose color you could only see when the shadows shifted correctly.
Then I noticed the scar on her right cheek, bright and pink and the length of my index finger.
"Let me help you find your daddy. Where is he?"
She looked up at me then, and lifted a shaky finger to point down the busy street. A thin-framed woman holding a Pomeranian bumped into her outstretched hand, and she drew it back.
I turned. And understood, completely.
Down the street, that's where the funeral parlor was. The one with the white picket fence and obnoxiously bright display of flowers that were meant to cheer up the mourning, and the parking lot with more wrinkles and cracks than my science teacher's face.
"Oh," is all I said.
Shakily, trembling like a leaf, she had stood. "My name's Maria. And I shouldn't talk to strangers."
I smiled at her, but stopped because it felt like I was mocking her inability to join me. "You're a very smart girl, Maria. My name's Sakura."
She had bitten her lip, hands twisting the thick fabric of her dress. "That's a pretty name."
"I'm gonna go back to Daddy now. I don't wanna make him more sad."
She turned to walk away.
"…Wait, Maria! Where did you get that scar from?" I couldn't let her go back if her father had done it to her, could I?
"When Mommy died, I was in the car." Her R's almost sounded like W's. (So young)
"I shoulda died instead."
Maria skipped away, with tear streaks stuck to her cheeks like dirt and runs in her stockings. I stood there, watched her leave, finally understanding just why stranger's kept their lives a secret from everyone walking down the street.
Two days later, I read a story in the newspaper. Little Girl Killed by Crazed Father-Enraged by Wife's Death, the headlines had said.
Witnesses say that after five-year-old Maria returned home from her mother's funeral, father Richard Simone did not allow her back into their home in the suburbs of Luther city. The girl reportedly banged on the front door until father came out with baseball bat and began-
("I shoulda died instead.")
Death does crazy things to people.
"Hey. Hear about the new kid?"
"What about him?"
"My dad's friend is a detective, and he told me that his older brother is a druggie. Said we don't need anymore scum in our city, 'cause it's dirty enough as it is."
"Big surprise. The guy's as pale as a ghost. He's probably a crack head, too."
They don't bother keeping their voices down. Every kid in the room hangs on their words, breathes them in as if they are oxygen.
Teenagers, are vultures.
I should know. I am one.
The new kid, sitting right next to the kids throwing slander at his name like mud, pushes his chair back. The room goes quiet. All eyes watch him as he leaves the classroom, face blank.
They have tied a noose around his neck.
It isn't until the middle of class that the teacher realizes there is an empty seat when there shouldn't be. She lifts up the attendance sheet, adjusts her wire-framed glasses to stare down at it.
"That's odd," she says. "We were supposed to have a new student today. Has anyone seen Sasuke Uchiha?"
The room remains quiet. It is as if our throats have swelled shut.
How could we see someone, when they are invisible? When they want to be invisible?
She shrugs. No one makes a noise for the rest of class, but at one point or another everyone manages to sneak a glance at the empty desk in the back of the room.
The day passes quickly. Sasuke Uchiha is in every one of my classes, but I never notice him until the teachers point out his existence.
The girls all like him. Love him, they say, about this boy they don't even know. None approach him. They only whisper through cupped hands, or giggle as he passes.
A painting that's nice to look at, but never to touch.
Me, I couldn't care less. I have other things on my mind, things that don't involve staring at a boy like a piece of meat for me to pounce on.
Don't be such a prude, my mother would probably say. Girls your age should be ogling guys, not treating them like a disease. Loosen up!
(Easy for her to say.)
I look up from picking at the thread hanging from my gym shorts to see Naruto walking towards me. His smile is brighter than any of the fluorescent lights above us.
Us, we've been friends since we learned to speak.
He jogs the rest of the way, untamed blond spikes bouncing, and is panting when he reaches me.
"Why are you late? You love gym."
His grin turns sheepish. He rubs the back of his neck, lets out a nervous laugh. "You know that water fountain in the teacher's lounge that exploded?"
I nod, slowly. The cogs in my head click everything into place.
"Yeah, well… turns out they weren't very happy about it. And, for some odd reason, they assume it was me."
I roll my eyes as the coach blows her whistle. We begin our warm-up jog, side by side.
"You know what else?" Naruto suddenly asks.
We slow our pace, just a little.
"Know about that new guy?" he asks, predictable. He still looks forward as he runs.
"Yeah, I know. Everyone's been spewing crap about him all day. Anyway, they bagged him for skipping first period. He was in the Dean's office, chair next to mine."
"Oh," is all I say.
"I started talking to him. He's okay, I guess. Kind of a total ass, but okay."
I look over at him, a little awed that he approached someone who wants to be invisible, but then I remember that Naruto used to be invisible too. "What'd you talk about?" I ask.
"Well, I did most of the talking. You know I hate quiet."
He doesn't want to tell me the finer details, for some reason. Avoidance is something Naruto isn't good at.
"Naruto," I repeat, slowly, "What'd you talk about?"
He winces a little. A tall kid with mud-colored hair passes us, runs right between us and becomes a wall for two blurred seconds.
"Is was more blurting than actual talking."
I groan. "You didn't. Tell me you didn't."
"I didn't mean to ask him! It just…slipped out."
He gulps. "Do I have to?" he asks, looking scared.
Deep breath. Hesitation. "I asked him if his brother was really a drug addict, or something like that."
I scowl at him. "For someone who makes friends so easily, that was a pretty idiotic way to introduce yourself."
He shrugs. "Slip of the mouth," he says.
I punch him, in the back of his head. "Slip of the fist," I say.
The coach blows her whistle. Every student, robots, stops their running and walks towards her.
She is holding a basketball against her round hip. She chucks it, hard, to a kid in the front.
"Find a partner," she calls out, voice like gravel, "and practice your passes."
"Ugh," I hear Naruto groan. "Drills again."
I snatch a basketball with a fair amount of air left in it, run my fingers over the goose pimple surface, bounce it twice. It stops a little short, but it's still useable.
We find an open spot in the gym, avoid getting hit in the head by a girl tossing her own ball with stick-on nails and too much eyeliner, and chuck the ball to each other.
Naruto, he's acting quieter than usual. Guilt, probably.
I eventually sigh, and pause mid-throw. "Naruto," I say slowly, "How'd he react?"
He looks startled, like he was spacing out. "Oh…uh…Sasuke, you mean?"
He shrugs. "Didn't say anything back. I got called into the office right after I asked, but I have a feeling he wouldn't of said anything either way. It kinda makes me feel worse."
My eyes soften a little. "After school, apologize." Before he can protest, I hold up a hand and continue. "It'll make you feel better. I know you don't like making anyone feel bad."
He huffs, but follows up with a megawatt smile. "Fine. You're coming with me, though."
I throw the ball, chest pass, extra hard. He curls his body as it makes contact, arms wrapping around the basketball. ("Oof. Son of a bi-") "Why?"
Rubbing his chest, still grinning, he says, "'Cause we both know I suck at saying sorry the right way."
That's a lie. Like all of us, Naruto is just scared of approaching the Unfamiliar.
One bounce pass into his groin later, I hiss, "Fine."
Naruto comes walking out of the boy's locker room a few seconds after I leave the girl's. He falls into step with me, looking excited.
"Guess what I did?" he asks.
I look at him, curious, and hike my backpack a little higher. "What?"
"I apologized, kinda, all by myself!"
I blink. "How?"
"Well, Sasuke was in the locker room and some of the guys were giving him a hard time with all of the rumors that're floating around. He was trying to ignore them, but they started getting annoyed and one of the assholes shoved him. Before some stupid brawl could start, I told the idiots to fuck off."
I blink, again. "Why was he in the locker room in the first place?"
Now Naruto looks confused. "Sakura, he's in our gym period. Didn't you see him? I don't think he had his clothes today, so he didn't change, but he was sitting against the wall the whole time. Right in front."
We make it to the front of the school, ignoring lockers and the sea of our peers drifting around us.
"I honestly didn't notice."
He shrugs. "Anyway, when I got rid of the meatheads, Sasuke was gone. I figure he forgives me, though."
"Naruto, you can't just figure things like that. You're still apologizing."
He pouts, but I don't relent, so he scowls instead. "Fine. Then you're still coming with me."
I sniff. "Fair enough. But I'm only moral support; you're doing all the talking, got it?"
"Shut it. Before I shut it for you. Now, find Sasuke so you can show off that Uzumaki charm."
We scan the crowd flooding the front of the school, eyes looking for light skin and dark clothes, for any flash of the Unfamiliar.
"I don't see him," Naruto proclaims, shrugging it off. "Maybe tomorrow."
I frown, still straining my eyes. "For every day you put this off, I'm amputating a finger. Starting with your thumb."
He squeaks, very not-male-like, and nods frantically.
The crowd disperses slowly as kids work their way onto their buses. The yellow monstrosities pull away from the curb, exhaust leaving a smoky trail.
We look among the stragglers now.
"…There! See him?" Naruto shouts. He's pointing ahead.
I squint. "No," I tell him honestly. "I can't see him."
"Jeez, Sakura. He's not freaking invisible. He's right there, walking down the sidewalk."
I glare at him, but he's still looking where Sasuke must be. "Just lead the way," I finally sigh.
"Aye, aye, Captain!" he snorts, giving a mocking salute. I shove him, and we take off in a light jog away from the school and towards the boy I cannot see.
"Hey, Sasuke," shouts Naruto, ever confident.
Sasuke must not hear him, considering he has a pair of bulky headphones on and I can hear the strum of the bass guitar from here. We finally catch up and both end up on either side of him.
He lifts an eyebrow at us, turning from me to Naruto, and pulls the headphones down so that they rest on his neck.
He doesn't speak. The lack of initiation makes Naruto fidget. We've stopped walking by now, and I give my blond friend a pointed stare.
"Right," he mumbles, looking down and then up. He clears his throat. "I'm sorry for being an ass."
I nod my head in approval. Naruto looks relieved, like he would have lost sleep over this. I look at Sasuke, but his face is stone.
"What are you talking about?" he asks Naruto. The heavy music coming from his forgotten headphones reaches a guitar solo, and my toes wiggle in my shoes, in sync with it.
Naruto squirms again, uncomfortable and not expecting this.
"Naruto," I prod, like the mother I am.
"For what I said in the office this morning. I shouldn't of said it."
I feel as though I'm staring right through this Unfamiliar, with how blank he looks.
"Right," Sasuke says. "Do I know you?"
My brow furrows. Naruto gapes, stares, speaks.
"In the Dean's office."
Sasuke nods, lifts his headphones so that they're over his ears again. "Oh," he murmurs, beginning to walk away. "You're the idiot that was talking to himself."
Naruto reacts instantly; keeping pace with him, while it takes me a few extra seconds to catch up after the anger passes.
Naruto doesn't look too happy. "What's your problem?" he practically screeches, to be heard over the music. "I just saved you in the locker room, didn't I? If anything, you owe me."
I cringe. Sasuke doesn't respond. A passing car honks at a jaywalking student.
"Naruto!" I scold. I move around Sasuke to get to him, hit him on the back of the head. "Don't lose your cool. Every time you get angry, you start acting impulsively!"
The two of us have stopped now, as Sasuke keeps walking, but I don't really notice.
"But Sakura," he whines. "Did you hear him? I was trying to be nice!"
"Naruto, you and I both know that was far from nice, from either of you. Yes, I can see why you're angry. But how would you feel in his position?"
"Cruddy," he answers childishly, scuffing his feet on the concrete and staring downwards.
I nod my head. "Exactly. Now, go and apologize properly."
The two of us look up, ready to approach Sasuke again, but he is no longer there. It's as if he has disappeared- an apparition.
Naruto snorts. "Maybe the bastard is invisible."