Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
I really shouldn't have been that nervous. Sure, I was sitting in a new school for the first time, all by myself, but class wasn't even in session. In fact, school didn't start until tomorrow morning.
"Just a quick meeting with the school counselor, and you can go home," I reminded myself, under my breath. My fingers absentmindedly played with the loose threads on my ripped jeans.
"Ripped?" a voice snorted in my head. "More like shredded." I bit my lip, internalizing a groan. My right leg bounced impatiently, a nervous habit, and the heel of my black boots made quick, quiet thuds four times a second, and the wood of the old chairs lining the wall creaked whenever I shifted. That was about every ten seconds. I let out another shaky sigh.
I jumped as the voice cut through the dead silence of the office. My head snapped to the right to see the guidance counselor of Beacon Hills High School peering out from her office. She seemed nice enough, young, with very long black hair and a neatly ironed pants suit. She raised her eyebrows a bit at my startled reaction, mouth quirked in an amused but polite smile. I grinned, squeezing my eyes shut and releasing a shaky laugh.
"Uh, yeah. That's me. Obviously." I stood, pulling my purse onto my shoulder and swinging my arms at my side.
"I'm Ms. Morrell," she greeted, stepping a little further into the room and offering me her hand.
"Hi, I'm Sadie," I replied, shaking her hand firmly.
"Well, Sadie, are you ready?"
"Yeah, yeah. Absolutely." I nodded and followed her through the green and glass door. Ms. Morrell walked around to sit at her desk as my eyes scanned over the various motivational posters that lined the walls.
"So, Sadie," she started gently, motioning for me to close the door. "Tell me about yourself." I closed the door gently before perching on a chair identical to the uncomfortable one outside, chewing on my lip. "You might as well practice now," Ms. Morrell added with a knowing smile. "I'm sure you'll be asked constantly tomorrow." I grinned, the prospect of being attacked by questions from students and teachers giving my stomach a lurch.
"Okay," I laughed a little. "Well, my name's Sadie Bennet. I'm a sophomore, new to Beacon Hills. My favorite subject is English, I'm pretty creative, and I spend entirely too much time on the computer."
Ms. Morrell laughed. "Good, good. I think, you'll do just fine tomorrow." I chuckled along as she straitened some papers on her desk. "So how do you like Beacon Hills so far?"
"It's nice," I answered simply. "About what I expected. I didn't live too far from here, and we moved at the beginning of the summer so I'm pretty used to it."
"And why did your family decide to move?"
I sighed. I was tempted to snap, "I'm pretty sure that the reason is bolded in that stupid file in front of you," but held my tongue. Instead, I played along, giving the simply answer she wanted.
"My father died a few months ago, and my mom and I wanted a change of scenery. That and uh, we could really afford to keep living in the same house with just my mom's salary." Ms. Morrell nodded, and while she didn't write anything down, I got the feeling she was pleased by my open answer.
"If you don't mind me asking, how did your father die?"
I licked my lips, staring down at the edge of her desk and running a hand through my hair. "He was a police officer, and he uh… he was shot on the job…"
"I'm sorry for your loss," she replied. Even though the answer was scripted, words I'd actually started to hate over the last few months, she was one of very few people who actually sounded like they were. I nodded mechanically. "Were you close with your father?"
I swallowed thickly. "Uh, kinda. I don't know. We had a normal relationship. We'd team up and tease my mom, he'd scream at me for talking back, joke with me and remind me he was proud of me. We clashed a lot of the time, but he always tried to make me smile and get me what I wanted or do what was best for me. I loved him… I still love him." I nodded to myself at the correction.
"And how's your relationship with your mother?" Ms. Morrell continued.
I gave a small smile. "We're really, really close. She works from home, so I'm kind of around her twenty-four seven. It's made the move a lot easier, too, but uh… She's always been there for me and I feel like for the most part we're pretty similar, so she understands me most of the time. I mean, we fight and whatever, but just natural stuff. She's like one of my best friends." I found myself wincing the moment the sentence left my mouth. "Sorry, that sounded like some cheesy lie."
"No, no. That's good to hear." Ms. Morrell nodded. "How has your mother been handling your father's passing?"
"She's doing the best she can. I mean, they fought a lot. Like, a lot a lot. But they still loved each other, you know? I know she's devastated. She still cries sometimes, and gets really quiet. Like she's just playing all the times they fought in her head over and over and wishing they'd gotten along better, or that they said 'I love you' and 'be safe' more often and meant it, not like just saying it out of habit when he left..."
Ms. Morrell peered at me with her hands folded. "Is that how you feel?"
I glanced up at her, seeing the knowledge in her eyes. I tossed my head to the side, shrugging. "Yeah."
"You can't change the past, Sadie," she reminded me gently. "And it sounds like you and your father shared plenty of great memories."
"Yeah, yeah," I said quickly, shaking my head. "'Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.'" Ms. Morrell raised her eyebrows, and I smiled sheepishly. "Elementary school guidance counselor."
"It's good advice," she agreed, sitting back in her chair. "You should take it."
I nodded. "I know, and I will. Eventually. It's just kind of hard because he's only been gone a few months. And it was unexpected. I mean, sure, he was police, but police in a small town usually deal with little things like speeding tickets and shoplifting, not armed robberies. But it just takes one and then…he was gone." I took a deep breath, glancing up to see whether or not Ms. Morrell planned on interrupting. When I decided she didn't, I pressed on. "I think I'm feeling relatively normal, though. I mean, he's my dad and I loved him. It's obviously going to take time for me to adjust to life without him. And I'll always miss him, but… I don't really feel like I'm drowning anymore. And it's gotten a little better since we moved. I miss my old house, but I'm not too far from my friends and…it's kind of nice to be living somewhere where I don't see my dad all around me. That's what I've got pictures for. Of him, of the old house. I took loads before we started packing things up, like the kitchen or his office where he would sit with his feet up on his desk and play solitaire or pick at the finish until there were dents in the desk. Or, or the barbeque and how he was so excited when we got our new one with all these different setting for him to figure out. Or how the living room was set up, and I can just see him sitting on the sofa yelling at my mom to move out of the way so he could see the television or throwing pillows around trying to find the remote. But now I walk into the living room and it's just…it's just a living room. So…I don't need to think about him as much if I don't want to. It's just…new."
Ms. Morrell stared at me with a placid expression. "It sounds like you're remarkably well adjusted."
My lips tugged upwards as an attempt to smile, before I rubbed at my eyes. Even though my speech was calm and collected, I'd started to cry again. I quickly wiped my face, something she pretended not to notice as she pushed on.
"You're right. It's completely natural to be this sad, and you'll get better over time. But for now, it seems like you're dealing with it very, very well. How has the move been overall? Are you transitioning well?"
I nodded, my fingers returning to the strings on my jeans as I cleared my throat. "Yeah, no, the move's been fine. My mom and I moved in with one of her high school friends. I-I don't know if we would've gotten better if we just moved into an apartment, cause we still would have been alone. Now it's like, we always have company so we have to pull ourselves together."
"Who lives in the house you're living in now?"
"Just me, my mom, my mom's friend Eleanor Martin and her daughter Lydia," I responded, shifting in my seat again as we moved into admittedly more comfortable territory. The chair groaned in response.
"And you feel comfortable there?"
"Yeah, pretty much. I mean…it's different. The house is…a lot bigger and cleaner and fancier, but I think it's been pretty nice. Miss Eleanor just got through a rough divorce, so I figure her and my mom distract each other. I guess that that's what they wanted to happen with Lydia and I, since we're in similar situations."
"And how would you describe your relationship with Lydia?" Ms. Morrell asked, clasping her hands on the desk and leaning forward.
"Have you ever seen Wicked?"
The counselor raised her eyebrows at the smirk that was slowly growing on my face. "No, but I'm familiar."
I chuckled. "That's Lydia and I. Glinda and Elphaba."
Ms. Morrell smiled. "Would you mind explaining?"
I shrugged, laughing a little. I still thought it was comical how similar our relationships were. "Well, when my mom and I first moved in, Lydia wasn't thrilled. Hell, I wasn't thrilled. I'd just lost my dad a month and a half before, and then I was sharing a house with… Well, Lydia and I are very, very different people."
"Lydia's lucky. She's absolutely gorgeous, she's the queen bee of the grade, has a popular boyfriend, boys fawning all over her, her parents are rich, and to top it off, her grades are phenomenal. Me? I'm…not. I mean, I'm completely comfortable with who I am," I added, nodding my head quickly and waving my hands. "We don't need to turn this into a self-confidence session. But I've accepted for the most part that the person I am isn't widely considered cool. I'm pretty enough, but I've only ever had a few close friends, I've never had a boyfriend, and my mom and I needed to move because we couldn't afford our house. My grades are good, and I'm working for top ten, but I'm not valedictorian material. I mean, I can write and draw and stuff, I'm talented, but… Life hasn't really fallen into my lap like it has with Lydia."
"You sound like you've put a lot of thought into it," Ms. Morrell observed.
"Well yeah. Lydia can be bitchy and shallow and irritating and judgmental, but I have to live with her whether I want to or not. So I had to find some way to rationalize her."
"And do you still not get along?"
My head tilted to the side, teetering for a moment before turning into a resolute shake. "Eh, we have our moments, but for the most part we're really good friends."
"And how did that happen?"
"Uh, about a month after I started living there, Lydia barged into my room to tell me dinner was ready or something and walked in on me crying over my dad's picture. At first I thought she was just gonna walk out, but she kinda froze for a couple seconds and ended up coming to sit with me. She started asking me about my dad, but not just like how he died, but what I liked to do with him and stuff, and how he fought with my mom. And then she was talking about how her parents fought too, and how they'd forced her to choose who she wanted to live with. Even under all that confidence, she kind of blames herself for her parents' split."
Ms. Morrell nodded. "It's a common reaction from teens with divorced parents."
"Anyway, we ended up talking for the rest of the night and completely missed dinner. We actually went downstairs at like midnight and just heated up dinner for ourselves and kept talking. And I think we both kind of realized how similar we were. We're both closer with our moms and have dads that aren't around for one reason or another. I look for flaws in myself cause I don't fit in, but Lydia looks for something wrong because her parents don't get along and she thinks it's her fault. We're both independent and stubborn and witty and stuff so… We clash sometimes. But after that we started hanging out more often and we get along a lot better." I grinned down at my hands. "Actually she's probably one of the best friends I've ever had."
"I'm glad to hear that," Ms. Morrell replied, and again the plain answer sounded genuine. "Is she helping you settle in and get ready for the school year?"
"Yeah, I guess you could say that," I said, unable to keep a bit of the laughter from my voice. "A few weeks after our heart to heart she kind of decided to make me her project. The Sadie Bennet sitting before you now is not exactly the same Sadie Bennet that left Menlo Park. But yeah, I guess after she tried to welcome me with a makeover she started introducing me to all her friends, like her boyfriend Jackson and some other boys on the lacrosse team and some of her girl friends. It's been pretty nice."
"Well, it sounds like you are definitely set to go." Ms. Morrell leaned forward on her desk with a grin. "Are you excited?"
I gave another slightly shaky sigh, but continued to smile brightly. "Eh, yeah. Nervous, excited."
"Well in all honestly Sadie, I think you are in a very good place to start school. You seem like a very personable girl, and you've already got good grades and some good friends. It sounds like you're healing fine on your own, and you've got a great support system, but if you ever feel that you need to talk about your loss or your transition, please don't hesitate to make an appointment. And I want to thank you for being so honest with me," she added, as I stood up and swung my purse strap over my shoulder. "I understand that new starts are difficult and you may not feel that others understand your pain at losing your father, but I'm glad you're strong enough to share your thoughts."
I nodded again with a polite smile, feeling mildly like a very obedient bobble-head. "Thank you for seeing me, Ms. Morrell."
"My pleasure. Good luck tomorrow."
"Thanks." I pushed the door open, but I only made it halfway through before I paused, sticking my head back inside. "Ms. Morrell?"
She looked up from her desk, where she already had a pen paused over a blank sheet of paper, ready to take notes and pour my soul onto the page.
"This… This meeting isn't a protocol for new students, is it?"
The counselor opened and closed her mouth once, before evidently deciding to tell the truth. "No."
I nodded, pulling my lips in for moment and pressing them together tightly. "I figured… Thanks, Ms. Morrell."
"Goodbye, Miss Bennet."
And with that I shut the door. I sighed as I walked out the office door to the main hallway, my hand already digging around in my purse. Yeah, thanks Mom. General meeting, my ass.
Finally, my fingers skimmed the smooth surface of my phone and managed to fish it out. I glanced at the time. Mom was most likely still in the middle of her conference call. I blew out a deep breath, letting my cheeks puff out and opening a new text to Lydia.
"Can you pick my up from my meeting at school?"
I tucked the phone in my pocket, hands attaching to my purse strap hung across my torso and walking towards the entrance. It was hardly a minute before my phone vibrated in my pocket.
"I'm painting my nails."
I rolled my eyes. Typical Lydia. I was fairly certain it was the third time she'd painted them that day, trying to find the perfect shade to go with the outfit she still hadn't nailed down for the first day of school.
"I can wait?"
I stared down at the screen, chewing on my lip for a few seconds before I got her response.
"Jackson's at the school for lacrosse practice and gets out in literally like 2 seconds. Just ask him for a ride. I'll see you when you get home! We've still got a LOT of work to do. :)"
I groaned at the dismissal. I did not want to text Jackson Whittemore. I mean, he was nice enough. He had to be because I was friends with Lydia, and he couldn't have Lydia mad with him. And I was sure that somewhere under that tough boy exterior, there was a genuinely nice person, the person that surfaced when he was alone with Lydia. But my past experience with "popular boys" made me extremely wary of him. I didn't want to push my luck and annoy him, but there didn't seem to be any other choice. I took a deep breath, scrolling down my contacts to where Lydia had entered her boyfriend's number.
"Hey Jackson, it's Sadie. Could you text me when you get out of lacrosse practice? I kind of need a ride."
Needless to say, it was not literally two seconds until Jackson texted me back. In fact, it was more like ten minutes. I spent that time collapsed on the floor with my back against a row of lockers, tucked into a corner at the end of the hallway next to the main doors. My phone vibrated in my hand, alerting me to the text message and interrupting the mindless game I was playing.
I rolled my eyes at the supremely unhelpful response, but forced myself to keep any trace of annoyance out of the conversation.
"Cool. Do you think you could drive me back to Lydia's?"
"Not with you looking like that."
I tossed my hands down for a moment. To be honest, I couldn't tell if he was joking or not. I knew that he had a sort of insult-based sense of humor, a side effect of his super-confidence from his good looks in my opinion, but I also knew that if he was being serious he would not hesitate to make me walk home to protect his reputation. Even if his rude, alpha-teen routine was an act, it was one he kept up with no exceptions - not even for friends of girlfriends. I smashed out a quick reply back.
"Please? You're coming over to see her anyway, and she'll be super pleased she didn't have to leave because you offered to drive me home."
So he hadn't offered. Lydia didn't know that yet. I knew it was stupid to use his relationship with my friend to my advantage, but I needed a ride, and no one else was coming anytime soon. Also, if he was joking, my extortion could be equally construed as humor, and I wouldn't look stupid. Well, not too stupid anyway. It took him a full minute and a half to reply.
"You've got 5 minutes to make yourself look presentable."
"Jackass," I whispered, as I replied.
"Thank you! :) See you in a bit!"
Tucking my phone back into my pocket, I stood up and speed walked to the nearest bathroom. I was sure I looked fine, but you know… Heard of lacrosse boys headed my way led by an irritable Jackson? I could stand to look a little better.
I walked into the girls' room and stood in front of the mirror, taking a deep breath as I took in my appearance. I ran my fingers through my hair again, still not used the to sleek, brunette curls that swung around my shoulders. After losing my father, I'd cut over a foot off my hair, which used to hang lankly down past my hipbones. It was now a lot healthier, and as strange as it felt, I loved it.
I reached into my purse and pulled out the makeup bag Lydia was now forcing me to carry around at all times for emergencies. Thankfully, I was growing out of the awkward stage that I had suffered through the past three years. On top of what was happening naturally, Lydia had spent the summer putting me through makeup drills, things like the color foundation I used, the shade and placement of blush, how to keep my eyes still when applying eye shadow and eyeliner, and one over her favorite lessons, "God-Sadie-please-just-put-the-lipstick-on-I-promise-it-will-look-great."
I had followed her instructions explicitly, and was pretty sure I was at least presentable. But I still couldn't shake the nervous "what if" feeling in my stomach. It'd been plaguing me all summer, and honestly, I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to get rid of it. It whispered in the back of my head, making me straighten my jeans again and unzip the makeup bag for the second or third time that day. Just in case.
I tapped some concealing powder over my face, mainly on my cheeks to completely erase any evidence of my crying. I added on a little more eyeliner, and applied some lipstick for good luck. It was still something I was not used to, and my lips seemed to stand out far too much on my face, making my own smile seemed foreign to me. But as Lydia had pointed out, that was the point of lipstick.
I shoved the cosmetics back in my purse and turned back to the mirror, eyes scanning over the outfit I hadn't counted on anyone seeing: black boots, a shredded pair of black jeans, and an old orange T-shirt advertising Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I pursed my lips, wracking my brains for ways to make the outfit any more popularity-acceptable. I started by tugging the top down a little bit, before tugging the bottom of the shirt slightly up to expose a thin strip of skin. Then, I pulled the hem of my jeans down to rest on my hips. I looked back at my reflection, tousling my hair once more at an attempt to give it some volume. That was about as skater-chic as it was getting. I pushed up my bust for good measure before casually walking back out into the hallway and waiting on a set of steps I knew Jackson would have to pass on his way to the parking lot.
True to his word, a few minutes later, I heard the clamor and chatter of the lacrosse team coming up the hall. I turned my head to the right, watching as the mob of attractive boys made their way towards me, lead by the one and only Jackson Whittemore. Even fresh out of practice he managed to look frustratingly attractive, with his dirty blonde hair spiked up, head held high, and his prominent jaw line and cheekbones casting light shadows on his face. His narrow eyes scanned the hallway, and I held my breath as they landed on me. He routinely scanned my body, and when I raised my eyebrows he gave a minuscule jerk of his head. Approval.
Immediately, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my chest. Gracefully as possible, I hopped to my feet snatched my purse my purse. I tossed my hair a bit and gave my best attempt to strut over to the lacrosse boys. It must not have looked too stupid, because I was met with a wall of grins from my acquaintances, and even a small one from Jackson.
"Hey, boys," I greeted, falling into stride next to their leader. There was a general reply of "Hey, Sadie," "What's up, Sadie," and a low, pathetic whistle from Greenberg.
"What are you doing here?" asked Danny, his face popping up between myself and Jackson.
Danny Mahealani was by far my favorite male friend so far. Where Jackson was sixty percent douchebag and forty percent genuine human being, his best friend seemed to be a lovely person through and through. Danny was polite and kind and funny, and as all nice, attractive, available men seemed to be, gay. He occasionally put up a façade of meanness because, like me, he was a good person attached to the popular group, and apparently that meant there were appearances to uphold. But for the most part, Danny was civil with everyone he met, and I was eternally grateful for his efforts to keep me from being Lydia and Jackson's third wheel over the summer.
"Oh, you know. Exploring." I shrugged, not willing to admit in front of the entire sports team that my mother wanted my mental health checked before I started school. "Figured I'd drop my books off at my locker and look for my classrooms."
"Sadie, you're friends with the lacrosse team," Matt Heifer scoffed, as if that should negate my fear of getting lost in the new school.
"Besides, a hot piece of ass like you isn't gonna have any trouble getting a little assistance," Dylan Peters smirked from somewhere to my left.
I rolled my eyes, throwing my hand up in what ended up being a very Lydia-like manner. "I'm not looking for any assistance from a horn dog like you, Peters." To my surprise, my comment was met with a round of laughter and a few "ooh"s and "burn"s. I smirked in victory, adding a little more pep to my walk.
"Doesn't matter," Dylan's faithful best friend Adam added. "No one'll even notice you if you keep dressing like that."
I grinned, spinning around and walking backwards, arms out grandiosely. "I know. Take a good look, boys, cause this is apparently the last you'll ever see of my T-shirts and ripped jeans."
"Can you still call those jeans?" Eric Bradley teased from my right.
I gave a dry laugh and shot him a glare, but I spun back back forward again in case anyone caught the flash of panic that had shot through me at hearing my own worries out loud.
"Whatever," Danny interrupted, laying a hand on my shoulder to diffuse the situation. "I like them."
"Well whatever they are, Lydia says she's locking them in a box and burying them after today."
Danny laughed. "Oh? You're gonna get Lydia-fied?"
"I've already been Lydia-fied. This is my grace day. I think Lyd might burn the jeans before school starts if she has time."
"Too bad she couldn't improve your personality or that mouth of yours," Jackson scoffed, shoving the doors to the outside world open.
I rolled my eyes with a grin. "Shut up, Jackson. You know you love it." He shot me a look with raised eyebrows and Danny guffawed loudly. "Okay, maybe not love, but you at least like me a little bit. Admit it. I'm a breath of fresh air."
"Air doesn't talk as much," he said shortly. "Just get in the Porsche."
I held my hands up in defeat, turning around and giving Danny a hug. "See you tomorrow."
"Yeah, see ya. Good luck tomorrow."
I swatted his hand away as he tousled my hair, giving a weak giggle. But couldn't bring myself to look him in the eye. Instead, I stayed looking down at the ground as if the pavement was the one who needed reassurance.
"Hey," he added, placing a hand on my shoulder. "You're gonna be fine. You already know a bunch of us, and you've got my number if you need something, okay?"
I nodded again, taking a deep breath. "Yeah, okay. Thanks, Danny."
"No problem. I expect you to look kickass tomorrow."
I laughed, backing away. "I'll try my best. Bye, guys!" I waved to the lingering members of the team before jogging over the Jackson's shining, silver Porsche and sliding into the passenger seat. Without a word, the lacrosse captain started up the engine and backed out of his self proclaimed space, and with a simple head nod to his teammates on the sidewalk, we peeled out of the parking lot.
We sat in silence for a few minutes before I was tired of chewing on my lip and playing with my hair in order to avoid conversation.
"So, how did practice go?"
Jackson's eyes never left the road, but I could see his jaw tense a bit from the passenger seat. "How do you think it went?" he replied in a voice that attempted to condemn me for my stupidity for asking such an obvious question. However, an entire summer with Jackson had taught me to deal with these moments. For the most part.
I simply chuckled, leaning back comfortably into the cushioned seat. "I think that it probably went swimmingly, but you wouldn't pass up the chance to gloat about your mad skills."
And there it was. The annoyed yet amused tug of the lips that let me know that even though Jackson hardly looked at me, he could appreciate my attitude.
"What can I say?" was his simple, smug reply.
"So, you guys definitely have the championship in the bag?" I asked with a small grin.
"So long as there aren't too many injuries, and the asses warming the bench stay there," he conceded. "There's no way we're not winning. It's our fourth year in a row."
"And I'm sure our heroic captain will lead the army to another bloody victory." He glared at me momentarily, but that was the only repercussion I received for my cheek. "So, what positions do you think it's most important to keep first string in?"
Jackson rolled his eyes at my obvious lack of knowledge. "First line," he corrected.
Then he was off, detailing each of the positions, which I was becoming pretty familiar with, who was playing in each position, and essentially who he could afford to lose. As he rambled, he allowed himself to relax into a position with only one hand on the wheel, the other occasionally gesturing to get a point across. A good sign. One of the perks Jackson got out of talking to me was the fact that he could talk about lacrosse without being glared at in annoyance. It got a bit much sometimes, but I'd come to Beacon Hills knowing absolutely nothing about the sport. Football was the only sport I'd ever really enjoyed watching, and while my love of the game was apparently scandalous to Jackson, and he consistently put on a mask of annoyance every time he had to explain something to me, I could tell that he enjoyed talking about the sport to someone new. Besides, talking to me about lacrosse meant we were on Jackson's turf, where he had more knowledge and power, a situation I knew he'd never pass up.
Jackson ended up chatting about lacrosse all the way to the house, with occasional comments from me in defense or condemnation of certain players. I didn't care how good Dylan Peters's aim was. I wanted to see him take a lacrosse ball straight to his over-eager crotch. Only when we pulled into the driveway of the Martin household did our conversation stray to different topics.
"Dude, you still don't have a car?"
I shrugged as Jackson's Porsche sped neatly into the space behind Lydia's shining black VW Beetle. Beside us was Miss Eleanor's glossy red Mercedes, and in front of that, my mother's dull tan minivan. "Mom works from home. I could take the van if I wanted." Jackson eyed the automobile warily, as if it harbored some disgusting disease deadly only to lacrosse captains. "Oh come on, she's not that bad!" I exclaimed, walking up the van and lovingly patting the hood. "We've had her forever, but she's super reliable and great for driving groups."
Jackson scrunched his nose. "Yeah, don't drive that thing to school."
I rolled my eyes, walking back over to him before we headed to the door. "Don't worry, your reputation will be completely intact. Lydia's driving me." Before Jackson could make any snide comment about how he wouldn't talk to me if I ever drove the van to school, I opening and through the front door. "Mom! I'm home!"
Instead of my mother, a natural force of strawberry blonde greeted me by prancing down the stairs and wrapping me in a too-tight hug.
"Hey there!" Lydia greeted, her wrists awkwardly digging into my back as she attempted to squeeze the air out of my lungs without smudging her nail polish. Before I could reply, she'd relinquished me and was already repeating the phrase onto her boyfriend's lips. I shook my head, grinning but averting my eyes Jackson pulled her closer by her hips and she threw her arms around his neck. By the time I'd finished taking my time kicking off my boots, they'd pulled apart and Lydia was already dragging him to her room. "Don't think I forgot about you, missy!" she called, looking over her shoulder as she tugged Jackson up the stairs and making eye contact with my receding form. "I only got to start looking at outfit choices for you for tomorrow, and we've still got to do your nails! Lots of work to do!" Before I could protest, she and Jackson disappeared around the corner in a swirl of hands and strawberry blonde curls. I sighed, waiting a few moments before I followed them up the stairs to my own room.
My room in the Martin home, which is still what I considered the house, was everything I had ever wanted in a room. The walls were painted a light purple, and I'd taken some time over the summer to practice painting sprigs of purple flower blossoms sprouting up from the molding on the floor. I had a plush, purple carpet as well, spanning the room that seemed much bigger than my room at home. My bed sat in an alcove on the left wall, perfectly fitted to the section so that three sides of the bed were pressed against a wall. The fourth side had a pole over it with long purple drapes hanging down, giving the bed the look of a stage and the function of a canopy bed. The opposite wall had my dresser and vanity, a table with a huge mirror filled with just makeup and jewelry which I was still getting used to. On the wall opposite me there were two large windows, each with a window seat lined with purple cushions. In the middle of them was my large L-shaped desk, flipped so that I could work on my homework, on my laptop, or on anything other project I wanted while facing the center of the room. Across, the wall with the door also had two closets, one on each side. The one to my right was mostly for storage, art supplies along with some costume pieces I had acquired over the years. At a guess, there was also a large metal lock box sitting on the bottom where Lydia would be locking away all the clothes she deemed unsalvageable. The closet on my left was filled mostly with clothes Lydia and I had bought over the summer. The sliding doors had been left open, presenting the colorful slightly tousled array to the world as evidence that Lydia had been rummaging around to make me a nice outfit.
I sighed with a slight smile. I knew that she only wanted me to have a good first day. Okay, really she wanted me to have a great first day as validation for her work over the summer, and then she'd be able to be proud and take credit for my transformation. But, she was my friend and I knew that there was a fairly large part of her that was doing this as a way to welcome me into her life the only way she knew how.
I dropped my worn boots into the storage closet, knowing that trying to wear them to school might cost me my ride, and padded over to my desk to place my purse down. I opened up my laptop to reply to a few good luck messages on Facebook from friends from my old town. To be honest though, everyone had seemed very distant since my father's death, like they pulled away to give me space but never returned to give me support. I figured some of the fault also lay with me. I didn't want too many tight bonds trying to pull me back to the town that held so many memories of my dad, so I stayed away from my friends to make the break easier. I chatted with my friend Briana about my day, allowing her to get excited over all my lacrosse-boy acquaintances, but that was the extent of my online sociability.
A knock on the door interrupted my thoughts. I glanced up as the door opened, my mom's sharp face and black waves of hair peeking inside.
"Can I come in?" she asked, with a small smile. I nodded, my face passive as I returned to scrolling around the internet. She shut the door behind her, turning back and wandering into the middle of the room. She looked around with a grin, before sighing into the silence. "You know, I just can't get over how good your room looks," she said, raising her arms to the walls as if I needed a reminder that this was my room. "You did such a great job on those flowers."
"Thanks," I replied, not looking up from the screen. I could feel her eyes on me, but I was determined to avoid her gaze.
I could hear her quiet breathing, before she took another stab. "Lydia helping you pick out an outfit for school tomorrow?" she asked, looking over at the open closet. I hummed in agreement as she walked over to straighten some of the hangers and smooth the fabric. "Any decisions yet?"
Mom ignored my short tone, sliding the door shut and beaming at me. "Are you excited?"
"Ecstatic," I replied in a monotone voice.
She didn't hide her sigh of frustration this time, moving over to sit on my bed. "How was the orientation meeting today?"
"You mean the poorly disguised assessment of my mental health? Fine."
The room was silent for a minute with the exception of my fingers smashing into the keyboard.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, her voice weary. I stopped typing as her head sunk into her hands, a pang of guilt pulling at my chest despite my attempts to keep a stoic demeanor. After a few seconds she looked up, patting the bed beside her. "Come here." Slowly, I got up from my desk and walked over, collapsing on the mattress and allowing her to envelop me in a hug. "I'm sorry," she repeated into my shoulder. "I just want to make sure you're okay."
"I know," I sighed, squeezing back. "I'm sorry too." We stayed still for a few seconds, swaying back and forth but keeping our arms around each other. "But, you'll be happy to hear that Ms. Morrell thinks I'm perfectly fine. 'Remarkably well adjusted.'"
"Of course you are," she said, nodding against my head. "I'm glad."
I bit my lip, lifting my head and pulling a little farther out of her grasp. "How are you?"
She let out a large sigh, running a hand through her hair the same way I did when I was upset. "Holding it together. That doctor Ellie recommended has been helping a bit but… I miss your father."
I tugged her into my again, resting my forehead against her neck. "I miss him too. And we're never gonna stop. We just need time and then we can stop feeling so sad all the time and just remember the good things."
Mom let out a watery chuckle as she rubbed my back. "That something Ms. Morrell told you today?"
"Actually, that's something I told her." She smiled, resting her hand on my leg, which I laid my hand on top of. "I promise if I need it I'll go back to talk to her, or come and talk to you."
"I know. I know you will. You're a smart girl. I love you."
"I love you too, Mom."
We just smiled at each other for a few seconds before my mom snatched my hands. "So!" she exclaimed brightly, in an attempt to beat back the gloom. "How are you doing your nails if you haven't picked out an outfit yet?"
"Mom," I groaned. "That's Lydia's job, I don't know!"
"Of course, you could probably just go with a neutral color. Do you want French nails? Come on."
"No, come on," she insisted, standing up and going over to my vanity. "Lydia's going to be with her boyfriend for a while. Put on some music and let your mother do your nails."
I sighed with a smile, watching as she moved the stool to the opposite side of my desk and started rummaging for the right kind of polish.
I hung out with my mom for the next hour or so, letting her paint my fingernails with French tips, and then my toenails when she insisted she wanted me to match. I told her all about my meeting at school, my conversation with Briana, and how all my friends, old and new, were getting along. She told me a little about her day, mostly about the latest book she was listening to on audiotape, and even confided in me a bit about how her own therapy sessions had been going. It was a nice way to spend the night, feeling almost normal before I started a completely new school tomorrow morning as a completely new person.
Lucky for me, Eleanor got home a little late, which pushed dinner back a bit, which pushed my shower back a bit, which meant by the time I was done soaking and blow drying my hair, it was too late for Lydia to do too much damage. The most she could do was pull out three possible skirts, five possible tops, and four different pairs of shoes. She spent forever mixing and matching, going back and forth between different combinations and forcing me to hold each one up as she circled me like a vulture. After over an hour, she threw her arms up.
"Fine!" she exclaimed, snatching the clothes back and hanging them in the front of my closet. "There's just not enough time to do this now. I'll think about it before I fall asleep and I'm sure the perfect outfit will hit me like a Hummer when I wake up." She rounded on me as if it was my fault time was moving so quickly. "You! Blue bottle of moisturizer on your face in ten minutes, glass of water, and then bed. I need you well rested to turn some heads and shock the population of Beacon Hills tomorrow morning."
Despite the demanding and slightly irritating tone, I grinned, holding up my hand in a mock salute. "Will do, ma'am."
Lydia relaxed into a smile, skitting over to hug me tightly. "Night, Sadie. You are going to be amazing tomorrow, trust me."
I pursed my lips, my nerves getting to me once more. "Thanks, Lyd."
Without another word, she glided out the door, barely pausing to call, "Sweet dreams," over her shoulder on her way to the bathroom.
I followed her instructions to the tee, spreading the moisturizer on my face before brushing my teeth and snagging a glass of water from the kitchen. I said goodnight to Miss Eleanor and my mother, who were sitting in the kitchen talking in low voices, and then retreated to my room. I crawled into bed and shut the curtains, leaving me in almost complete darkness. I waited for my eyes to adjust, the light from the windows crawling along the ceiling and through the space above my curtains. After a few minutes, I could see all the pictures lining my walls. There were pennants from both my school in Menlo Park and Beacon Hills, as well as a few pictures of my friends and me. A poster from my favorite TV show, and a few concert tickets were taped to the wall as well. But I turned on the blankets and face the wall with my pillow. There were only a few photos up, taken a little over a year ago at my middle school graduation. My mom was smiling at the camera, while I laughed up at my dad, who grinned down at me as he held my cap up off my head. I smiled sadly at the photo, remembering how hard my parents had tried to not fight that day.
"Hey Dad," I whispered, though it sounded like I could be yelling in the quiet. "So…new school tomorrow. Logically, I shouldn't be too worried. Lydia's taking good care of me, and I know a bunch of other people who will help me find my way. I'm not interested in any of the lax boys that I've met so far, so you don't have to worry about that…. I went to talk to the guidance counselor today to talk about you. Mom made me go, but she said I'm handling it pretty well. I kind of feel like I have to, for Mom's sake. I know you guys used to fight a lot, but she misses you…. Sorry, you know that, but…I miss you too." I sighed, looking at the picture beneath my graduation, of my dad grinning at the camera in his police uniform. I cleared my throat when my eyes started to sting, refusing to add crying to my list of problems the night before school. "I-I should get to bed," I added. "Lydia will have my head if she has to try and cover up my puffy eyes tomorrow morning. I love you, Dad." And with that I turned around, tucking myself under the thick blanket and snuggling into the soft sheets on my side.
I just had to keep a level head. There were plenty of people there to take care of me. I just had to make it through the first day of stares and looks of pity, and then I could get back to a normal life.
Yes. Completely normal.