Raison de ne pas être

-Freshman year-

Day 31

Oh... It's been a long time.

So much has changed. We had a speaking exercise today. The teacher asked us to stand up and talk about our future - what, when and where we want to do, for how long, for how much money, with how many people, in what environment, anything even vaguely realistic to give us an idea of what we want the rest of our lives to be like. It wasn't just the class either, no. I've noticed this popping up often lately, for example that time I overheard Graham talking to the boys.

They had been playing a game of soccer with Graham in the offense. Graham always gets picked first for a team. He is swift and agile and easily the most feared player on the field, especially when he's going alone against Archie. Archie tends to be the goalkeeper, but I feel sorry for him, because they're only letting him do it so he gets the "crappy" part. Nobody likes being goalkeeper to just stand idly by and certainly not in a game where Graham is the one kicking the ball.

Anyway, Graham was talking about how he would love to be Sheriff one day. I was just passing through, but I couldn't help but mention that it was tough talk for someone whom I had caught putting bubble gum in August's sandwich the other day. You should have seen his face, all red up to his ears. He and August are talking again now, but I did get front row seats on a first class fist fight that day.

There have been lots of incidents like this. People sitting on the grass in circles, discussing their dream jobs. I assumed Graham would go on about the Sheriff's position again, but - perhaps in memory of the gum incident - instead he talked his preferred career of a huntsman in the woods around Storybrooke. I thought that would suit him more.

Ruby's speech was brilliant. We share most of our classes these days and she is still my best friend, but the moment she stepped up and opened her mouth, she became someone I idolize. She talked about such incredible imageries, things I've never pictured before... She talked about flying to South America and starting a journey through the Brazilian rainforest in search of lemurs. Someone asked what they were, and she explained all about lemurs, how they were a kind of ring-tailed monkeys and how their heads look kind of like a baby bear's. The teacher pointed out that lemurs don't actually live in Brazil, but Ruby shrugged it off and kept going. She told us stories about the waves on the coast and seashells, seashells everywhere you looked, and she mentioned a little seaside café just by the shore where you could sit while listening to the racket of the birds. I pictured all of this from beginning to end - the fan-shaped seashells, the waitresses at the café, a Jeep pulling up at the end of the world... It was a breathtaking sight to behold.

I suppose this is why I started rummaging through my old stuff when I got home. I'm not sentimental; I was just looking for something to connect the memory to, like I sometimes do. That was when I stumbled on this old notebook. I hadn't intended to keep it, but it appears that somehow, throughout all the times I've moved from one home to another, this notebook - you - have always been right here, at the bottom of the box.

And I turn to you after what happened today for that reason. Everything's gotten so serious all of a sudden. Everyone knows exactly where they're going to be five years from now. Me, on the other hand, I don't know where I'll turn up in five days' time. It's so unthinkable for me to take these things into account it's all been a little too uncomfortable to me. I mean, sure, like I said, the signs have been there for a long time now, but it was just today that it hit home just how far behind I am. Because even in vivid talks of lemurs and seashells and ice cream in the heat and exotic snakes slithering by quickly without so much as acknowledging the human - It's not me I envision in those stories. It's Ruby, with her red streaks and her high country boots, whom I see. None of it is a destiny for me; it's hers, much like the huntsman in the forest is Graham and the runaway writer is August. Most of these promises won't come true. Everybody knows it, but it's an unspoken rule we should never mention it.

Still, true or not, I'm jealous. I don't have a story, not like Ruby or Belle or Nick. Maybe one day.

Day 42

Hannah flew off the handle again. I don't even know what for; I came home to find the place upside down because she's been throwing stuff again. Jeremy stormed out at the sight of me, probably so that I would end up being the next target for making him leave. I can't blame him. Hannah's terrifying when she's angry. She told me again that she'll send me back where I came from. I just nodded; I know she never means this when she says so, not so much as to go through with it past the filling out of a form. I used to feel sorry for Jeremy having to put up with her bullshit, except this time, I think he may have gone for good. I'm not sure what I think about the prospect. It would mean I'm now the only one to fall victim to her tantrums.

Then she went on about how god will save her soul and absolve her of this misery. But he won't.

Day 49

It started with a game. A really stupid game. Someone swings the bottle and the person it points to is the one they have to kiss and that's it. That's the only point to it. When it was Graham's turn, the bottle pointed to me and I felt my heart sink.

I should explain this before I continue. Me, Ruby, all of us, we're at that point in our lives when we've all heard about sex and we're all excited about it, but we never speak of it out loud, ever, save for occasional out of place remarks from the boys and the suppressed giggles whenever a teacher mentions something "inappropriate" or writes "James' pen is blue" on the board as part of a math problem. We can't help it, alright? It's funny. Someone once brought an issue of Hustler in and there was a big fuss about it. Fortunately for the culprit, they never found out whose it was. But since then, everyone is always dropping hints. Hormones, you know. Although I doubt anyone I know has ever actually done it.

Well, I shouldn't say that we're all excited about it. To me it seems cool in theory, and it's not like I haven't practiced on my own, and that's good, but when it comes down to it, I don't think I really want to do it. You know what I mean? I know what parts go where and all that, but I feel like I'm more comfortable just... on my own, yeah, like maybe I'd reserve this for if I ever want babies, maybe. God, I feel so stupid writing this down, especially here. It's not like I can talk to Rubes about it, though. She seems very impressed by the idea and tends to be a little judgemental when I don't share her enthusiasm. She doesn't say it, but I watch her, and she's not nearly as subtle as she thinks she is in her ogling. Hell, sometimes she can be worse than the boys. Maybe it differs from person to person. I just have to get there, that's all.

Anyway, because of this and because kissing goes hand in hand with it, I objected profusely when they started to drag me into the middle of the game. I said I was just observing, but they would have none of that when the bottle actually pointed to me. Apparently, not going along with it would be considered cheating. There were about ten to fifteen people around chanting and the mere idea that I would sit there and kiss the boy in front of everyone sickened me. But then I noticed Rubes in the back mouthing "Go for it!" my way and smiling like she's never been happier in her life. Then she glared at me as if to warn "If you don't, I will." I guess in the spur of the moment, I didn't want to let my best friend down. Or up. Does that make sense? I don't know. All I know is that I was... a little scared of what would happen if I didn't comply.

We kissed, and it was pretty awful. He's growing facial hair so right away, his peach fuzz scratched at my chin in the most uncomfortable of ways. It was like pressing your lips to a tree trunk, kind of. At first it was awkward because neither of us really knew what to do next, and then it got more awkward when he began eating my face. That didn't seem to faze anyone else, though. If anything, it provoked more cheering. And then our noses kept bumping and it was weird and messy and gross and ugh. But that wasn't the worst part, not by a longshot. The worst part was when I made the unforgivable mistake of opening my eyes. I didn't know how to do this, okay? Everyone had already seen dozens of scenes like this in movies, but I was never allowed to watch them. All I knew about kissing came from the girls' sex ed brochure, and you understand it wasn't exactly the focal point of it. So I didn't know you weren't supposed to do that until everyone started laughing. I pushed Graham away and he just looked at me like a stray puppy, probably thinking he was the one who messed it up (though to be completely fair, he didn't exactly shine either). The next thing I saw was Rubes in the background, laughing her ass off.

They call me Peeping Emma now, but I'm done being the laughing stock of the whole damn school. Done, I say.

Day 50

"Man, you were more tense than the Portland rugby team's flankers!"

Really, Rubes? Really? What a great opening line.

I was on the swing, for the first time in, well, years. To be honest, I miss the old times: me, Rubes and vanilla/caramel ice cream, hanging around this place for hours on end. Not much has changed since then except for us. The swing is still tied to the same old tree and there are still the same see-saws and slides around, and that one sandpit that tends to have sand everywhere but within its bounds. That and ever-growing blades of grass have transformed it into a seemingly natural part of the playground. You wouldn't guess it doesn't belong there. That's probably because it always has.

Regina never hung out with us here much, only about two or three times. She doesn't like the playground. I suppose I can see why now; the noise levels tend to be over the top, especially when Miss Blanchard's classes get to go outside, where she sometimes teaches them, too. Still, when you're up here on the little hill that overlooks this part of the school grounds, it makes for a fantastic watching spot. The noise can be mostly blocked out from up here when you delve into your thoughts, too. But I remember Regina refused to sit on the swing (childish) and the ground both (dirty). It's funny how she's always trying so hard to hold up to this veneer she has.

But that's not the reason I started talking about this. I was up at our spot earlier this afternoon and Ruby found me there. (Though it wasn't that hard to look in the first place.) And she greeted me like that. Ruby has an extraordinary talent for always belittling things when I get upset, but never the other way around. I was kind of hoping to get a little time to sulk by myself, but no. She was all "You should have seen your face!" and "Someone should have recorded it! It would have been all over YouTube by now." You can tell I wasn't in the mood to talk, so I told her off. She must have finally noticed I didn't think the incident was as hilarious as everyone else perceived it to be. She left, and when she came back, she brought ice cream.

How does one stay mad at Rubes when she brings ice cream? You don't, that's the thing. She probably sensed she'd crossed a line and went from taunting to the complete opposite. "It wasn't that terrible, really, given the circumstances. And it was totally mostly his fault. I mean, sheesh, what is he, a sea cucumber?" It was all blatant, exaggerated lies, but I appreciated the sentiment. I might have even giggled at some of those remarks. We would have left it at that, me feeling better about myself at Graham's expense, but Rubes had to go that extra mile once we were done with our ice cream, just biting the sticks in our mouths in vain hopes that somehow the flavor would return.

"I could teach you, if you want."

Now, I know Ruby tends to be flirtatious - perhaps a little more than is healthy. But I've never noticed her behaving that way around girls, much less actually kissing anyone. It was an idiotic suggestion, assuming that was what she meant. Not only does Ruby know as little as I do about these things, but she is a girl too. I wasn't sure how I felt about that, not really. No one had ever mentioned this kind of thing was even possible except for her. Rubes, on the other hand, got awfully excited, as if she were planning a wedding of some sort. Suddenly she was ranting and jumping around like a little grasshopper on a lit stove and she got that dreamy look that suggested I wasn't even there, the same one she got when she was talking about her lemurs. "Your problem is that you keep thinking, Ems! That's not what kissing is about!"

I mumbled that my problem was I didn't want to kiss him in the first place, but Rubes ignored me completely.

"It's supposed to be a spontaneous thing, like when you see a kitten in the alley and you just want to cuddle it because it's so fluffy and cute, you know what I mean? No, like, like when there's a meteor shower outside and you've just heard about it on the news, so you run outside in your PJ's just to watch, you know? That kind of thing. Are you following?"

I wasn't, not really, and I could tell she was getting frustrated with me giving her the 'wut' look.

"You don't get it. It should be like when something startles you, but then it ends up being something really good and you're glad it happened. Like this!"

And then she kissed me.

I was surprised at how different this was compared to Graham yesterday. Because I didn't see it coming, she had to put her hand on the back of my neck to get me just that little bit closer, but she didn't force me. And she had no stubble to itch, and her lips were much softer. If I had to compare, I'd say hers are closer to marshmallows. Sweeter too, though that could have been the ice cream we'd had. And when my eyes fluttered closed after the initial shock, it wasn't because that's what people generally do.

When we parted, I stared at her dumbly for a few seconds, but she just sighed and went "Oh god, Ems, you're gayer than a Christmas tree painted pink in the middle of July."

Afterwards she carried on rambling about our homework as if nothing happened, but I zoned out a bit. I'm confused (and offended, I guess?). I did like it, but it wasn't that different. I mean, you can't really tell from only two kisses, can you?

What does 'gay' actually mean, anyway?

Day 51

Hannah exploded again. I wonder if someone saw me and Ruby and told her. She kept repeating how my soul is going to rot in hell because I cooperate with the Illuminati. I don't even know who those guys are. A wretched vixen is what I am. She threw me out of the house in the evening, but let me back in a few hours later. At least I could think about my essay while I was outside. Back inside I still had to take a few slashes across the back, but nothing I'm not used to. She was actually being kind of gentle with me, which I'm thankful for. Then she cried and I went to sleep.

One of these days, I'm probably going to find her overdosed on her meds in the bathroom. What scares me is the fact that I can't bring myself to really care. What I am afraid of is that I'll be the one to see her first now that Jeremy is gone. Mental images of the sort keep running through my mind. She must be right; no servant of god would think that way. When I came home from school today, Mr. Whiskers didn't come and greet me, and my first thought was that maybe she'd finally snapped and cooked the poor cat's insides. Fortunately it turned out he had gotten stuck in a closet by accident. Come to think of it, that's what set her off in the first place. She thought I was trying to kill Mr. Whiskers. Talk about irony.

Day 53

It's puzzling, this thing with Regina. I should explain where I'm coming from... You see, she doesn't come to school all that often, or rather, she's often absent. Then when she comes back, it takes her a day or two to get back in the routine. However, every time we ask her about it, she says nothing and instead derails the conversation to an entirely different topic. She's been this way for as long as I can remember.

We talked about her today, me and Ruby, at our hideout - a classroom at the top of the uppermost stairway. It's the only room the stairs lead to, in a remote part of the pavilion. I hear it used to be an art classroom - it's full of large tables and sinks embedded in the walls - but since we don't have art anymore and Miss Blanchard prefers going outside with the little ones in the summer and playing games when it gets too cold, rarely anyone ever goes there. I found about it while I was doing my job. I work for Miss Blanchard now. Well, okay, "work for" is a strong verb to use, but I do help her for several hours after my classes are done a couple days a week, cleaning after the little ones, carrying books, arranging them into correct order in the library, that sort of thing, and Miss Blanchard gives me a little something in return. It's good. Keeps me busy and gives me an opportunity to talk to her again, since she doesn't teach any of my classes now and the only time I get to see her besides my job is when it's recess and she's outside with the children.

Anyway, as I was saying, me and Rubes were talking about Regina. That is, after I gathered the courage to face her again. It wasn't exactly comfortable after what happened the other day; not for me, anyway. But Rubes doesn't care. Sometimes I think she's already forgotten it happened. So when she saw me walking down the hallway earlier, she grabbed my wrist and virtually dragged me into our hideout, rambling on about having something important to tell me.

It turns out she heard from Archie, who heard it from Lance, who heard it from Magnolia, that Regina has some trouble at home. They say the reason she doesn't come to school is because her mother teaches her herself and when Regina makes a mistake, her mother doesn't give her dinner that day. And when she makes a second mistake, she has to sleep on the front porch, regardless of what time of year it is. In the summer she gets stung by wasps and in the winter she freezes. I told Ruby this is rubbish, no more than trash talk, and that while it's true that Regina's grades are always exceptional, I really don't believe someone like her needs external motivation.

Truth be told, it worries me now. All of this is probably terribly exaggerated, but I do remember the look of horror that grazed her face fleetingly when I suggested doing our homework together at her place some years ago. Needless to say I haven't brought it up since.

I don't know. I shouldn't care. She does treat me like crap most of the time, borrows my books without even letting me know, writes on my notes, snorts in disdain at every little thing I do or say, laughs at me when a rare moment passes by and I share my thoughts with her. Sometimes she utters a tasteless comment on my biological parents and I get mad and we fight while some of the other kids cheer and Ruby stands by awkwardly while we both yell at her to get the hell out of there. Miss Blanchard or Graham have had to pull us apart in times like this more than once. (My pride won't allow me to not mention that I did give her a split lip twice.) But then it all comes down to the two of us on the bench eating ice cream when we were little ones as well. And sometimes, just sometimes, after she's stolen my pen and refused to admit it's mine or drawn lines on the back of my shirt, she says something along the lines of "You should have known better than to leave it on my half of the desk," avoids looking me in the eye, and I recognize her idea of an apology. I'm very much used to taking what I can get - so I take it and I let it go, most times.

That is not to say we don't have our good moments; I don't want to paint this picture looking too gloomy. Well, the main reason why I still talk to her is because she's much smarter than me and lets me copy her answers - or rather, pretends she doesn't notice as I do. Not all the time. When she's angry with me, she'll put her pencil case between us. On the other hand, when she feels guilty about something, she pushes the paper a little closer to me. We've developed a pretty decent system of nurturing the more intimate parts of our relationship this way without ever speaking of them much. Suits us just fine; I still think Regina's most fun when she's quiet.

I just don't understand why she keeps coming back to me when she hurts me in some way to insinuate that she's sorry, only to let me down again. If it were me, I would have started giving her the silent treatment ages ago. But then there's Ruby, always going on about how "Regina's only mean to me because she likes me" and how "it's difficult for her to form and manage interpersonal relationships the way others do so she doesn't and instead expresses her feelings in their opposites" and how "it's a mutually beneficial unspoken agreement we've got going on here". (I swear, that last one she only says to sound more intelligent.) When I'm in a fit of rage, she's always there to repeat over and over that Regina is just really lonely and yadayada and then she tells me to remember what I used to be like and ugh.

Damn Ruby.

Day 57

I got blood on the sheets. I'm still not completely used to it... bleeding, I mean. My cycle isn't regular yet, so I never see it coming, even though I know I should be prepared. It's okay, though. I rinsed the sheets with hot water as soon as I woke up and spread them back on the bed while they were still wet. With a bit of luck on my side, she'll never notice.

It has been quite an eventful day, to say the least. Nothing impressive happened during my classes, but I did take part in an unfortunate series of events on my break between classes and work. Regina was leaving for home and Jefferson stopped her on the sidewalk. I was watching them from a good 100 ft away, so I don't know exactly what they were arguing about, but I think he was accusing Regina of stealing something of his. That was when I saw his fist in the air.

I didn't make it, of course. They were too far away, and by the time I arrived, Regina had stumbled back from the force of the punch, holding her cheek. I stepped between them and yelled at Jefferson to try to take on someone his own size - which I now realize was a dumb move, given that me and Regina are roughly the same height and he's got at least half a head on both of us. It doesn't matter; I needed something, anything to divert his attention from Regina at that moment. Rest assured, it worked. The guy was out of it. He went for a right jab, I ducked out of the way and landed one in his stomach. I overheard Regina screaming at me, or him, us, but I could barely make out my own breathing and heartbeat. He retaliated quicker than I expected, and when I rose back up, he hit me in the nose. It's not broken or anything, but it started bleeding profusely. In the end that might have been what saved me. We battled for a few more awfully stretched-out moments - it felt like an hour and afterwards I found out barely two minutes had passed - and then it stopped, as quickly as it had begun. Perhaps the blood made him realize he was acting violently. Perhaps he got scared of getting in trouble for hurting me. In any case, at one point he just stopped, stared at us, and took off.

It took me a while to register the fight was over, for the adrenaline rush to subside, and for the pain to kick in. Aside from the nose thing, I'm not hurt much, just a few scratches. No big deal. Regina snapped me out of it then, yelling at me for "meddling with her affairs", all the while she seemed hellbent on wiping the blood off my face with a tissue. No wonder; I must have looked like someone who had been standing awfully close to a butcher with an awfully big cleaver. "What did you do to him?" I asked.

"I stole something he holds dear. A keepsake."

"Did you apologize and give it back?"

She looked at me in the most impatient way possible, like I was one of the little ones asking "Why?" all the time. Not only did she decline, but the way she said it, she might have as well spat "Of course not!" like that would be the despicable thing to do.

I admit I got even more mad at this point. Am I not justified in that? Against my better judgement, I had gotten myself to resort to violence for this girl over a beat-up she might as well have fully deserved. I lost it then - I'm not proud of it, but I had just gone through my first actual fight, for Christ's sake - and I blamed her, I did. All of this could have been avoided if she had just done the right thing for once. Several times it looked like instead of throwing a snappy remark my way, she was going to say something meaningful in her defense, but she backed out at every occasion. The rendezvous ended with me storming off and leaving her there, and from now on, I honestly don't give a rat's ass if Jeff comes back at her again. I gave her a chance and she wasted it.

When I got to work, it was Miss Blanchard's turn to stitch me up. Not literally, but she gave me the same horrified look when she saw me. Must have smeared evidence of the fight all over my face while I was trying to talk some sense into Regina over her goddamned tissues. Miss Blanchard interrogated me until I spilled the beans about what had transpired, though I left out the part where I found out the reason for Jefferson's outburst. "All these years and I'm still not sure whether you find trouble or trouble finds you," she sighed as she cleaned some scratches. Yeah, I suppose I get into trouble a lot. Come to think of it, it felt pretty awesome to put these fists to good use. I guess I do need to beat up something tangible every now and then. Strange, I might even be glad this happened to an extent, safe for the part where Regina got hurt and then behaved like a total ass. It's probably the hormones.

It was what Miss Blanchard said afterwards that reminded me of a cause long forgotten. "It's like you were made for problems."

These words triggered something in me, something I hadn't thought of for a very long time. I remembered thinking Ruby's kiss monologue had been painfully familiar, but it wasn't until Miss Blanchard said this that it clicked. I remembered raison d'être, the concept neither of us had ever fully understood.

"What were you made for, Miss Blanchard?" I asked. I did so with the phrase on my mind, suggesting I was aiming for something less casual than my usual approach.

Miss Blanchard pondered it for a moment before shaking her head in resignation. "Cleaning up your mess, apparently."

It seems I was destined to bleed today.

Day 58

I've been thinking about what Miss Blanchard said. She knew very well what I meant by my inquiry. Does that mean that she doesn't know what she was made for, or that she truly believes her purpose is to keep an eye out for me? Maybe none of us ever really know. It's strange, how a collocation I and Rubes had uttered so many times with impunity suddenly gains a whole new meaning with no factor present but time.

I saw a man approach Miss Blanchard when she was outside with the little ones. He was tall and slim, around her age if the buzz cut is anything to go by, and he certainly knew how to handle the kids with care. He might have been their teacher too, but I find that hard to believe, considering I have never seen him before. Not only that, but he and Miss Blanchard seemed overly friendly to each other to both be teachers. Nothing like the usual stern glares and small talk they make in hallways, or jokes they make about students as they laugh at our expense - all in good spirits, of course. A little suspicious, all this lively chatting and giggling. I don't know what to make of him.

I was sitting on the grass doing my homework when a ball flew to me, hopped on the ground a few times and stopped by my knee. Finding out where it came from seemed like too much of a hassle, so I let it be. Shortly after, a girl of about twelve came to get it. Looked skinny like a monkey, the goober. I thought she was going to diss me for not kicking the ball back to her, but when she was picking it up, she frowned, crouched and went "What happened to your nose?"

"I was being too nosy."

Contrary to my firm belief, that didn't scare her off. She just laughed as if I said the joke of the century. Slightly frustrated, I looked up from my books to notice she also had a band-aid on her nose and purplish circles under her eyes. "What happened to yours?"

"The same, the same."

I grumbled something and the girl left. Later, when I told Rubes about it, she said the girl had a point. "You can't expect people to trade red wine for water. Sure, some of them will. Not because they're stupid, but because they prefer water over white wine, like me. However, most want to get their money's worth."

"So you're saying you're friends with me because I am good for absolutely nothing to you and that's fine with you?"

Ruby chuckled. "No, not at all. It's just that most people want to trade solely for the purpose of having and knowing more. You and I aren't like that, not really. I'm friends with you because I know that if I were dying of dehydration and I only had the purity of a drop of water to give you, you'd let me keep the water and express ship me the contents of your entire wine cellar.

On a related note, what did happen to your nose, anyway?"

Heeeellllpppppp.

Day 60

There was no light bulb in the bathroom light when I came home. Hannah had probably removed it for fear of demons being attracted to it or something. I didn't ask. In cases like this, it's always better not to ask. Like that time she hung scissors in front of her bedroom door and sprinkled salt at the threshold. I pretended to be repulsed by it whenever she was around to give her the edge. One might think it's better if she'd just believe I'm not a demon, but trust me, that doesn't work. Been there, done that. The last time I tried telling her she was delusional, she hit me in the head until I got dizzy and then locked me in my room overnight, until I had to go to school again. I'd rather face the fact I'm a demon than make her that angry once more.

Day 65

The man visited Miss Blanchard again. This time he brought her pie and they played hangman all the while the little ones worked on an assignment to go around the school grounds in pairs and write down the correct names of as many flowers and trees they see. Poor Dorothy mistook coltsfoot for a dandelion and started crying. The man said it was okay, that this happens to adults all the time, that he had once even mistaken someone for an entirely different person, and as he said that, he smiled at Miss Blanchard. Dorothy stopped crying then.

I asked Miss Blanchard about him at work. She said his name was David and that he was a friend, but I couldn't buy that. I didn't want to pry, though, either. That would have been inappropriate. The rest of the time I spent trying to rub old bubble gum off the bottom of desks. Ugh, kids.

Day 66

I brought up raison d'être with Ruby again. I can't help it; it's been nibbling at my mind ever since that fight with Jefferson. I know what it means, but what is it, really? So I asked Ruby what she thought, what she thought she'd been made for.

"I don't think you can divide everyone based on what their purpose is. I think it's the same for everyone. I mean, why would we be here, all different but all the same, if the core of things wasn't the same too? Think of it as math. X plus X, no matter what the X is, will always equal two X. Like people. We could be anything, but the outcome will always stay the same."

"Yeah, we die. I don't think that metaphor is working out for you, Rubes." In fact, many of her metaphors don't really work, though I rarely mention it. She likes using them in the same way she'd liked raison d'être in the first place; it makes her seem smarter. She probably is smarter than me, too. I couldn't come up with any of these while her muses seem to be able to go on forever. "Also, why would there be two X's in the first place? Unless you insist we're all mentally unstable to that level, we're all one person. We only have one heart."

I'm not sure whether I mentally scarred her by that last remark or whether she saw a ghost eating her cheeseburger, but I could swear she was somewhere else entirely at that moment, before she jumped up excitedly and exclaimed "Exactly! I think I got it!"

"Got what?"

"Ems, think about it. X plus X equals two X. Someone plus someone equals Y. That's the answer!"

"No, it's not. It's ridiculous. For one thing, you're saying our raison d'être is to be ourselves with a copy of ourselves. That makes no sense whatsoever. Besides, it can't be that simple."

"No, it makes perfect sense! Just you wait, I'll prove it to you!"

Oh boy. I'm scared I'm in for a treat.

Day 67

I've been thinking about it all day long. Maybe there is some truth to Ruby's incessant rambling. I mean, Miss Blanchard does seem much happier whenever David's around, and we all know what's going on there. But can Y equal happiness? I doubt that. It doesn't seem likely. So many people die young, unsatisfied, in pain, suffering. I have no illusions about myself; I'm probably one of those people. Lots of people die before they're even born, and Ruby still tries to blame all this existing on an imaginary pursuit of happiness. No, whatever the source, I refuse to believe happiness is anything but a temporary placebo in the face of the real thing, whatever it is.

Needless to say, I was indeed in for a treat. I had been looking for my keys for more than an hour when she appeared, claiming she had stolen them and would give them back if I came with her. Had it been any other person, I would have punched them in the face, but I suspected Ruby had reasons... somehow, so I complied. She led me to our hiding spot, the abandoned classroom at the top of the staircase. To my surprise and anger, I entered to find Regina waiting there. Obviously, the sight of me was just as unpleasant for her as she was for me, because she started yelling at Ruby, demanding her phone back. I meant to stand up for Ruby, but before I could, she had already started on about that theory of hers, how X plus X equals 2X. The funny part was that Regina had zero idea what we were arguing about, and for once she was completely baffled while I tried explaining to Ruby that she had no idea what she was talking about, that I and Regina were... incompatible. Because we are. We don't fit in any sense of the word.

Upon which Ruby got mad. "But you don't get it! You are the two X's in the equation! Why is it so hard for you to see it? I can see it! All the kids can see it! Hell, Miss Blanchard can see it!"

She must have sensed she'd crossed a line as soon as she did, because she covered her mouth with her hand as her eyes darted from me to Regina and back, perhaps hoping we somehow missed that last part. We didn't. Regina stormed out immediately; I demanded Ruby give me our things so I could catch up to her and return her phone. I now know why she was as compliant as she was, but that was the least of my worries then. What did she mean by all the kids? What did she mean Miss Blanchard can see it? What's 'it', anyway? No, this is wrong, all of this is wrong, and Ruby's taking it way over the top. I'll have to talk to her about it later, because her theories need to stop for a while. I'm too busy trying to figure out this stuff for real while she plays god with us as puppets. For now, though, I have to have some time for myself. I apologized to Miss Blanchard and said I wouldn't come to work for a few days. It's not like I'm legally bound to it, anyway. I just need a little time, that's all.

Day 68

[morning]

I found a note at my door when I woke up, from Hannah. It was a two page essay on how my cunning and manipulative demeanor invite demons into her house and how she couldn't have a servant of Satan in there any longer, for she must purify the home of all vengeful spirits. The letter said I'm not as good a person as I think I am and the reason I don't realize it is because I've grown too accustomed to the devil's vibes, that I vibrate on the same energetic frequency or something. The last sentence said I had ten minutes to pack my things and leave. When I finished reading, I had barely three minutes left, and for some reason the one thing I thought of taking with me was this notebook - you, Albert. You, my wallet, pen, the old Chinese mp3 player with the jammed 'forward' button, and one ticket to hell. I should have taken a jacket, too, but I was in too much of a rush to say goodbye to Mr. Whiskers to notice the pouring rain outside.

I'm sitting on a bench by the school. Too bad it's Saturday. I'm sorry for getting the pages wet, Albert. I just need a little more time.

[noon?]

I've waited all my life

Poison the hero

Back down to zero

No consequence at all

[afternoon]

I think I just saw Regina on the other side of the fence, running down the street in tears. As soon as she saw me, she did a 180 and bailed. Maybe it was just my eyes playing tricks on me. The visibility is low, what with the rain and the mist; it might not have been Regina at all. Still, imagine that, me and her both being driven to the same place at the same time. Maybe this building is the only place we have to go. Maybe Ruby was a little right in some things.

It hasn't stopped raining. I'm cold.

[even later]

Turns out it had been Regina, the shadow in the distance. I had fallen asleep on the bench - or into some sort of half-conscious, half-dreaming state - when I felt something brushing against my nose, where the band-aid is. It was her hand. She came back, holding something. I couldn't tell what it was at first because, well, she had just woken me up and I'm never in a hurry to tear myself out of dreams. Before I could examine it, she seemingly changed her mind and hid it in her pocket. I sat up. She sat down next to me and wrapped her coat around both of us without as much as saying a word or looking me in the eye.

Then after I warmed up a bit, she said "You aren't completely repugnant," and pulled the item out of her pocket again. It was vanilla/caramel ice cream, still packed, the same kind I'd given her six years ago.

We're 2X now, together in the rain with one earphone for each and one coat to preserve warmth. And yet, I think I'm a little closer to knowing what raison d'être means.

Now you and I can both fall apart.

Thank you.