She's not anywhere.
Cat searches for a bobbing head of black hair in the hallways, in other classrooms, even ducking into the janitor's closet, but there's no sign of her. She stops everyone whose name she remembers and asks if they saw her, if they know where she is, but all she receives is shaking heads and worried glances. Cat needs to talk to her - Jade is her best friend and they can't pretend it didn't happen like she can with Tori or Robbie or anyone else. But, most of all, Cat has never been able to harbor the weight of Jade's anger, and she knows without a doubt that she's mad.
She looks up, meeting Andre's simmering eyes across the lunch table. His brows are drawn together."What?"
Cat blinks. Drawing her hand back, she stares at the crimson drop budding across her fingernail. She licks her lips and tastes blood. "Oh. Oops."
"Here." Andre stretches his arm across and offers Cat a napkin, which she takes and wraps around the bitten finger. "You should be more careful."
Cat has heard that a lot lately. Pressing hard on her finger, she looks dejectedly into her limp, vaguely brown salad before pushing it away with her free hand. She straightens her back and peaks over the tips of her friends' heads. Cat's watching for a passing rain cloud but the courtyard is blinding yellow with sun.
She shares her next class with Jade. It can't be possible for her to ditch the entire day - can it? Surely she'd get in trouble for it. Cat twists her lips together, remembering that Jade really doesn't care about getting in trouble, and when she's mad, she'd push the limits.
The anatomy classroom is as she remembers it; cold, white, sterile. It's the least colorful room in all of Hollywood Arts, and by far the least fun. Science has never been her strong suit and it's only because of Jade helping her study on lazy Sunday afternoons before a big test that she is even passing at all. Mr. Yun, a short man with crescent shaped glasses, stares pointedly at Cat as she makes her way to the fifth desk in the first row - her seat - and frowns at the one behind her - Jade's.
Most of her teachers today have been a little more reserved than usual, like they're afraid they might spook her. None of them had said anything to her directly, though they all looked like they wanted to. Mr. Yun has words in his mouth, Cat knows it, and he's about to round his desk and make his way toward her when Cat's tornado spins into the room.
Jade catches him by the arm, making him jump. Cat jumps, too, straight to her feet, gripping the edge of her desk with one hand. Emerald irises slide toward her, a slipping glance, before she leans close to Mr. Yun and mumbles something Cat is too far away to hear. Mr. Yun shakes his head and makes an exasperated face at her. When Jade presses, he raises his voice:
"No. I don't care what play you have to practice for. Just because this is an art school does not mean we pitch academics out the window!"
The bell rings. Cat is still standing, watching a tight muscle flicker in Jade's cheek. She pivots on her heel and marches straight - toward Cat, her mouth opening and a hand outstretching to reach for her, to say something, but Jade only gives her a sparing look before sliding hard into the seat behind her.
"If everyone would get their homework out from yesterday - except for Cat, of course, you can just listen for today - we'll grade that first ..."
Slowly, Cat lowers herself to her seat. She can feel Jade behind her like an anchor, making it hard not to hunch on her desk. Once again her finger becomes victim to her nibbling teeth as she stares anxiously at the clock. The large hand trudges tortuously slowly and every minute of it has Cat that much closer to spinning around and screaming at Jade right in her face.
Talk to me! Look at me! I'm sorry!
When Mr. Yun releases the class to work on the study guide, she hears Jade rustling behind her. Cat whirls around so fast her neck cracks but she has to tilt it up to watch Jade stand.
"Jade." Cat, somehow, manages to speak. The other girl hesitates briefly, the toe of her boot catching on the floor. Jade smoothly fixes her stance and keeps her eyes straight ahead. When she says nothing, Cat continues, "Jade, please, don't be mad at me."
Surprise ripples across Jade's face so quickly Cat might have missed it had she blinked. Finally, those startling green eyes drag down toward her, a flicker of worry sputtering in her irises like a flame trying to stay lit in a windstorm. "I'm not mad," she says, voice hardly a whisper. A frown drips from the corner of her lips and Cat stands, wants to wipe it away, but Jade slides her feet back and wedges space between them. "I don't know what I am, but I'm not mad. I just can't -" She breathes, looks away, shakes her head. "Not now, okay?" Jade's teeth pluck at her lip and then she's turning, leaving, gone.
Cat wants to go home. As she walks numbly from the classroom, she thinks about calling her mother, knowing that she would be here in all of five minutes to take her out of here and back to the calm safety of her room, more medication to keep her grounded.
But Jade said not now. She didn't say not today.
"Are you sure?"
It's the twelfth time her mother has asked her that in the span of five minutes - an impressive record, no doubt. Cat barely resists the urge to sigh. "Yes, Mom. I'm going to hang out with some friends. I missed them!"
There's a hesitant silence on the other end and Cat knows her mother is gnawing at her nails, a nervous habit that apparently runs in the family. "I just don't know if that's such a good idea so soon. I don't want you to overwhelm yourself -"
"I'm not overwhelmed." It's mostly a lie because she feels like she's drowning, but her head is still above the water. For now. "Please, Mom. I need to see my friends."
Her mother sighs. "I guess, honey, but you better be home by dinner time because if you fall off schedule with this medication there could be some serious repercussions."
Serious repercussions. Cat's eyes close. Through clenched teeth, she manages, "'Kay 'kay."
After sliding her phone into the side pocket of her backpack, Cat turns to watch the flooding double doors of the school once again. Kids are still spilling out, dashing toward a long line of buses that rumble and smoke like yellow dragons. Cat is standing on the curb holding her skirt down with one hand as a billowing breeze teases her legs. She sees Andre come out, followed closely by Tori, and Cat jumps behind a pillar to avoid being seen. Maybe sometime soon she actually can hang out with them like she used to, but they're not mad at her - and maybe Jade isn't either, but she is something that they're not and she's her best friend and she has to fix this. It's all her fault.
The students begin to thin. Cat turns toward the parking lot, scanning the cars that still remain until she finds Jade's, so black it looks blue under the sunlight. Cat has ridden in it hundreds of times. She knows the smell, the purr of the engine, the way Jade turns her hand upside down to turn. She's walking toward it before she can think to stop herself, placing the flat of her palm gently on the hot outside as if she were being reunited with an old friend. "Hey," she whispers, smiling faintly. She turns and leans her back against it, heat burning the small of her back and her thighs but she doesn't move, relishing in the subtle smoldering of pain because that means she's still here.
At some point Cat's head tilts back and her eyes close and she doesn't know how long she stands there nearly dozing before she hears thudding footsteps come to a scraping stop. Cat's eyes snap open and tilt down and there she is, her backpack on one shoulder and her keys gripped tightly in the opposite hand.
"I said not now." Jade swallow. She rounds the car to the driver's side, the car giving a high beep as the doors unlock.
"Jade, please. Let me talk to you."
Jade pops the door open and curls her hand over the window, face down. "What's there to say?"
Cat's mouth closes. She doesn't know. She's never been good at stringing words together, at making things that seem reasonable to her make sense to others. Every doctor she had met at the hospital had all given her the same confused crook of their brows every time she tried to explain it. Maybe her words would clarify little for Jade but that doesn't make her want to say them any less. "I don't know. But I don't like this." Cat gestures between them with her hand. "Like ... like there's a wall."
Jade lifts her head but doesn't look at Cat, green eyes instead focused on the road that leads out of Hollywood Arts. A sigh deflates her chest. "Where's your ride?"
"I told my mom not to come get me."
"I said I was hanging out with friends."
"I can't hang out with you right now."
"Why?" Cat's voice comes out more as a whimper than she intended. Jade looks at her sharply, shoulders tensing up. She looks almost scared, a tightness around her eyes that Cat's never seen before manifesting before the other girl has a chance to subdue the reaction.
"Look, I just ..." Jade drifts, hands slapping against her thighs. "I'll take you home. But that's it. That's all I can do right now."
Cat's throat is threatening to close, so she just nods and opens the door, slowly slipping in. The car is baking inside and Jade immediately cranks on the air conditioning as soon as the vehicle rumbles to life. Cat smiles again, stroking the door fondly. I missed you, she tells the car, but not out loud, because people already worried enough about her mental state as it is.
The silence that settles between them is awkward and Cat hates it because it was never like this before. When they were together, Cat was always chattering and Jade would say something snarky and funny and they would laugh and spontaneously burst into songs from musicals they've been obsessed with since they were little kids and it was a comforting kind of loud. Now it feels dead, a monitor with a flat line, and Cat doesn't know how to resuscitate. Jade's face is stone as she drives and Cat tries not to stare at the girl's profile but instead at the blurring sidewalks and stoplights and people and dogs and sky and all the things her doctors told her she would have missed out on had her attempt been more than that. But her attention always manages to shift back to the girl beside her because she would have missed out on her the most.
Somewhere between Wilkinson Avenue and Right Street Cat can't bear listening to the quiet in the car and she says, "I'm sorry," and she watches Jade's fingers tighten around the steering wheel and blink a couple of times but she doesn't say a word, not until they're parked in Cat's driveway. Jade leaves the car running and Cat releases her seatbelt and twists to face her, to repeat herself, but she doesn't get to finish her second apology because Jade is leaning across the seat, taking Cat's face in her hands, and -
Silence. Different from the kind she experienced after swallowing her father's entire bottle of painkillers. Different from the kind that had wedged itself between Jade and Cat all day. It's not eerie, it's not uncomfortable.
It's warm and it's nice because Jade is kissing her.
Jade's lips are bold, strong, opening for a gasp of a breath before closing on Cat's once more. Cat doesn't have lungs, or a brain, or anything but a drum solo in her chest, rattling her ribs when her lips part and Jade's tongue melts into her mouth. It's fireworks, it's the crescendo, it's a shooting star scarring the night sky, but when Cat's fingertips graze Jade's jaw to draw her closer, deeper, it's water dousing a flame. Jade is gone, the silence shattered by shaking breaths by both parties, and when Cat opens her eyes Jade is shaking against the driver's side door.
"Cat," Jade says, the first time she's said her name since before, and Cat tries to answer but nothing comes out of her open mouth. She doesn't get the chance.
Blearily, Cat turns. Her mother is on the other side of the door, ripping it open and taking her shoulder.
"Inside." The woman stares across at Jade. "My little girl is very fragile, Jade. She can't handle this."
Jade is staring into her lap. Cat reaches for her but her mother drags her out, pushing her toward the house. Cat has to be held by the elbows when Jade backs out and drives away.