Disclaimer: I own no part of Skip Beat. This story was inspired by the songs "Be Like That" by 3 Doors Down, and "Long Way to Happy" by Pink.

Be Like That

"Oh, my God-- he's so hot!"

A squeal. "Oh, wow, he is! And so cool, too!"

A girlish giggle. "He's so totally mine!"

I lift my gaze from the pages of my math textbook and study the trio of girls, dressed in school uniforms identical to my own, gushing over a magazine containing a full-page publicity shot of Ren Tsuruga's latest drama, which showcases the star himself in a very flattering, though only lightly airbrushed, pose. Other, presumably less important cast members are arranged around him, but it's clear even from this distance that their only role is to draw more attention to him, like a prince's entourage.

The girls' mindless chatter continues for another few moments, until the one holding the magazine turns the page, revealing an advertisement for perfume. Immediately, they begin debating the merits of different brands of cosmetics, and I return my attention to puzzling out the quadratic equation.

But, of course, my concentration has been broken, and I close the book disgustedly with one hand as I lift my water bottle to my lips with the other. As I drink, my eyes flick over the other people in this area of the park, mostly students from my school out with friends or, less commonly, engaging in not-so-secret assignations. An elderly woman is coming toward me, and I shift my bag to the ground unconsciously, making room for her to sit; she walks on, with only a derisive glance in my direction, and I stick my tongue out at her retreating back.

I'm not like them, you know, I want to tell her. I'm different, and if you knew by how much… you'd be terrified.

I stretch my arms out along the backrest of the bench and watch the stagnant fountain across from me, as though it might erupt at any moment. About ten feet to my right, the girls have finished reading their magazine, and are now discussing the results of their latest examination, and the dire effects that it will doubtlessly have on their future. "My mother cannot find out about this," one of them is wailing. "She said that if my grades dropped, I'd have to break up with my boyfriend!"

The murmured condolences of her cohorts cover my unsympathetic snort. Is this really her biggest problem, the possibility of being forced to live without an evening a week spent giggling awkwardly for the benefit of some egotistical, testosterone-poisoned loser? Is the worst misfortune she can imagine having to face her mother with a low test score?

I can almost remember what that felt like, if I try hard enough; I can almost call the hard stone of nervousness back into my stomach, exactly as it was each time I passed yet another test paper marked with the fatal 97 into my mother's judgmental hands. The memories are faded, though, distant somehow; it's almost as though they belong to someone else, someone whose life I vaguely remember living, but who could just as easily have been a product of my own overactive imagination. I can't really remember what it felt like, down to the smallest detail. The feelings, the voices, even the aura of disappointment… they're all just shadows and echoes in the labyrinth of my mind.

I can't remember what it's like to be a normal teenage girl.

I look at the battered cover of the book in my lap, and trace its rounded corners of its pages absently, trying to see past them into the reality they represent. When I dropped out of high school to support Sho, I never thought about what I was leaving behind, or what it meant I could never become. All I could see was what I was running toward, the future that I had always wanted, and school was just an obstacle in my way. So I removed it, and I didn't look back until I had gone from being Princess Cinderella to a filthy maid covered in the remains of a smashed pumpkin.

My hand closes over the book, and I lower my head, though the sunglasses already obscure half my face. I gave him so much… how long will it take to make up for all of it? Will I ever be able to take it all back, or just bits and pieces here and there, not even worth gluing back together?

Even if I avenge myself on him, as perfectly as I have in my darkest fantasies, will it be anywhere near enough to satisfy me?

I look back at the girls, who are gathering their things together, and then up at the sun, which has begun to set. They will need to get back home soon, I realize; their mothers will be preparing dinner, and their homework will need to be completed. They'll go to sleep in their own rooms, surrounded by walls and furniture that drip with the debris of a teenage girl's life, and when they wake up tomorrow morning, they won't even notice any of it. They'll take every single little thing for granted, while I continue to break my nails scrabbling in the dirt of this road for any piece of the life I could have had, a single crystal shard or worthless coin that, somehow, escaped being sacrificed in the pursuit of Sho's affections, a Grail far beyond my power to seize.

It's not fair, of course, but I'm sick of repeating that pitiful mantra.

The girls are hugging one another, and by the time I finish my drink and re-pack my bag, they're already out of sight. I take one last look around the park as I get up, and I am about to leave when I notice that their magazine is still on the bench, left behind like so much trash. On impulse, I retrieve it, and flip back to the image of Ren Tsuruga. The small part of my mind which remains objective about such things recognizes that most people would find him beautiful, but there is no corresponding reaction in the rest of my being, and I smile sadly. If I were normal, if I hadn't been so scarred by Sho, would this picture make me act the same way? Would I too be reduced to a squealing fan by the mere sight of Mr. Tsuruga?

If I were just like them, would I be better off?

I sigh, and drop the magazine into a nearby wastebasket. At this point, what does it matter? No wishes will restore my innocence; no handsome prince is coming to save me. I am who I am, what Sho has made me, and there is no way back to the girl I might have been.

With an outward resolution that has no counterpart in my soul, I turn and take the first step towards home.