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Unraveling You, Page 3

Jessica Sorensen

  I wonder if I should take them now. All of them. Then I wouldn’t have to face another damn day feeling as though the ground is about to crack apart beneath me. Face the world being friendless again. Alone. Always alone. I hate it, but can’t admit it aloud.


  Mrs. Gregory is standing in the doorway with her blonde hair pulled up, wearing a hesitant expression. She has on a red apron over jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. She looks like a typical mom, yet her warming, comforting demeanor is unfamiliar to me.

  “I was coming to wake you up for school”—she tentatively steps foot into the room, glancing around at everything still neatly in place like it was yesterday. I haven’t dared touch anything except the bed—“but it looks like you’re already ready.”

  I nod as I drop the bottle into the duffel bag and quickly fasten the zipper. Her eyes track my movements, and I half expect her to ask me what I’m doing, but she doesn’t.

  “Do you want some breakfast?” She points over her shoulder at the doorway. “I made chocolate chip pancakes.”

  I rake my hand through my shaggy black hair as I spring to my feet and fumble for my tattered backpack on the floor. “Sure, ma’am.”

  She frowns. “Ayden, you don’t need to call me ma’am.”

  I seal my lips together and remain silent. I've never been much of a talker, nor do I feel comfortable calling her anything but ma’am. Yes, they’re officially adopting me now, but we’ll see how long that lasts. I give them a week until they want to send me back.

  She stiffly smiles then signals for me to follow her as she starts for the door. “Come on. Let’s get some breakfast in you while Kale’s getting ready. I’ll have Ethan drive you all to school. He takes the rest of the kids a little bit later since junior high starts later than the high school.”

  I nod, slinging the handle of my bag over my shoulder. “Okay.”

  She seems unnerved by my one-word responses, but I don’t know how to give her more.

  She pauses when we reach the arch of the kitchen doorway. “Are you sure you’re up for school? Because you could always skip a few days and start next week when you’re a little bit used to things. And I could take you shopping for some new clothes.”

  I shake my head. “I’m fine. I’m used to stuff already. And I’m fine with my clothes.”

  She offers me a sad smile. “If that’s what you want.”

  I freeze, thrown off balance. I’m pretty certain that’s the first time someone has said something like that to me. “Yeah, that’s … what I want.”

  She whisks into the kitchen, crossing the length of the large room and heading toward the stainless steel stove. The entire house is big and sparkly—fancy. I feel very uncomfortable, because all the other homes I’ve been in have been small, dull, and broken.

  “I’ll see if Lyric wants to ride with you,” she says as she refastens the tie on her apron. “She’s a junior like you. It might be nice to know someone your age.”

  The suggestion makes me uneasy. Lyric made me feel out of my element yesterday with her blunt, bold attitude. Plus, her green eyes are so unbelievably intense that I had trouble looking away from them. I think I came off even more insane than I normally do. Still, after all the staring, the damn girl seemed determined to be my friend. I haven’t had much in the line of friends, and wouldn’t even know what to do with one, but I still agreed to be hers, figuring I’d only be here for a week, so keeping my promise wouldn’t matter.

  “Are you okay with that?” Mrs. Gregory begins stirring batter in a bowl.

  I nod as I take a seat at the rectangular table in the nook. “Yeah, that’s fine.”

  I can tell she’s about to explode from my limited answers. I wait for her to yell at me—it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been yelled at by an adult for my silence. Instead, she offers me pancakes, so many that I feel fuller than I ever have, as if she whole-heartedly believes that pancakes are the way to cure my silence.

  I wish they were.

  Chocolate chips to heal a broken soul.

  Cure hunger.

  Cure the past.

  Cure my amnesia.

  Lyric had warned me yesterday, though, that Mrs. Gregory would be like this. That she runs her own catering business on the weekends and loves to do experimental cooking for the family whenever she can.

  After I assure Mrs. Gregory that I’m stuffed, she ushers Mr. Gregory, Kale, and I out the door, shoving a granola bar and banana in Kale’s hand.

  “Oh, and remember you have therapy later today,” Mrs. Gregory subtly reminds me on my way out.

  I nod, even though I’m not a fan of the idea, and follow Kale and Gregory out the door. We get into a bulky black sedan that seems more like a chauffeur car than a family vehicle. Then, Mr. Gregory backs down the driveway, pausing at the street where he lays on the horn, staring at the neighbors’ house.

  “You should get along with Lyric just fine. She’s a very outgoing girl.” That’s all he says. He was the same way yesterday. A man of few words. I think I might kind of like him.

  I fasten my seatbelt while we all wait in silence. A couple of minutes later, a very bouncy Lyric comes bounding out of the house with her backpack on. The girl walks like she’s on crack, all bouncy and full of sunshine. I find myself both envious and mesmerized by it—by her.

  Her long blonde hair is down and blowing in the breeze. She’s wearing red cut-offs with a long-sleeved black shirt that has netting for the sleeves. I’m still trying to figure out what kind of person she is. At first glance, I might have gone with Goth—minus the blond hair—but after watching her smile and chat yesterday, she seems too cheery for that type of crowd. Cheerleader doesn’t seem right either. Neither does a jock.

  “Hello, everyone,” Lyric singsongs as she hoists herself into the backseat of the sedan and scoots in next to Kale. She has a violin case in one hand and a Pop Tart in the other.

  Orchestra freak? Wouldn’t have guessed that.

  “Morning, Lyric,” Mr. Gregory replies as she slams the car door. He backs out onto the road and drives down the street, past the two-story homes, and toward the stop sign. “What’s your dad up to today?”

  Lyric briefly flashes Kale a smile, who goes as stiff as a board, then she buckles her seatbelt and peers up front at me.

  I realize I’m staring again. I tell myself to look away, but like yesterday, I’m too curious to listen to myself.

  “Not much,” she tells Mr. Gregory as she munches on her breakfast. “I think he’s going to go down to his studio and rock out for a little while. Why? You thinking about having an old man jam session?”

  Mr. Gregory shakes his head, but I can tell he’s trying really hard not to smile. “I’m not that old, Lyric.”

  She pats him on the shoulder. “It’s okay. I won’t tell anyone.”

  He rolls his eyes. “So, how are the drums coming along?”

  She shrugs as she unzips her backpack. “Good. Although I still think I’m way better at the guitar and violin. The drums are fun, though, for letting some steam off.”

  So she plays the guitar, drums, and violin. Okay, she’s not an orchestra freak, just a hardcore music freak. It makes me like her more.

  While I don’t know how to play any instrument, listening to music is a huge outlet for me and got me through a lot of hard times. Plus, it drowns out screaming really well.

  “And how about the lyric writing?” he asks as he veers the sedan onto the main road that centers the small, upper class neighborhood.

  She retrieves a pack of gum then sets the bag aside. “Not that great, but I blame it on my parents. They’ve made my life too easy, and I have absolutely nothing to write about.”

  “You could always write about the easy stuff,” he suggests, looking at me for some reason, as if he knows my not-so-easy secrets.

  She pops a piece of gum into her mouth then offers one to Kale, who quickly shakes his head. “I don’t want to be that kind of a songwriter.�

  Mr. Gregory glances at her through the rearview mirror. “You sound just like your dad.”

  “Thanks.” She seems proud of this, something I find strange. Most kids my age would take it as an insult.

  Her eyes abruptly lock on mine. “Do you play anything, shy boy?”

  Great. She’s already given me a nickname.

  I shake my head. “No.”

  “What do you do, then?”

  I shrug. “Nothing.”

  She leans forward in the seat, chomping on her gum. “Now, that’s not true. I mean, clearly you’ve got a chance for the Most-One-Word-Responses championship title.” She blows a bubble, and then smiles at me, making happiness look so effortless.

  “Well, obviously there’s that,” I retort, unable to help myself. “But I’m betting my chances for winning are going to go down the more time I spend with you.”

  She grins as she reclines back into the seat. “Excellent comeback, shy boy.”

  I’m on the verge of smiling as I face forward in the seat again, but any trace of happiness dissipates when we pull up to the school. It was clear to me yesterday, when I first saw the neighborhood the Gregorys lived in, that I was now officially part of the upper class society. I didn’t even think about what that would mean for the school district.

  Instead of a rundown, graffitied building like I’m used to, the school consists of a perfectly structured building, surrounded by green grass and sparkling, crack-free windows. Half the cars in the parking lot look brand new, and the clothes everyone wear look fresh off the racks from some absurdly expensive store.

  “Are you going to be okay with Lyric showing you around?” Mr. Gregory asks me as he parks the sedan in front of the drop off section. “Because I can walk you in if you need me to.”

  “No way,” Lyric interrupts as she shoves the door open. “As cool as you are, Uncle Ethan, the last thing he needs is you being all awkward, like you usually are around people.”

  He shakes his head, but he’s not irritated, more like mildly entertained. “All right, I’ll pick you two up after school, then.”

  She nods then jumps out at the same time Kale hops out his side. They both slam their doors as I reach for my door handle, but then pause, feeling terrified. I usually like to blend in and typically do. But with my gauges, faded black clothes, and worn boots, I’m going to stick out like a sore thumb.

  I open my mouth to ask Mr. Gregory if he can take me home, but my door swings open and Lyric snaps her fingers and points for me to get out.

  “You’ll be just fine,” she assures me as if she’s read my mind. She slips her bag on then grabs my hand, giving my arm a tug. “I got your back, dude.”

  I flinch at her touch and almost jerk back. I hate being touched almost as much as I loathe nighttime. But as I catch sight of the abundance of so-called classy people roaming around, I end up clinging on to her as I climb out of the car, oddly grateful that Lyric doesn’t let my hand go as we walk up the wide pathway toward the glass entrance centered below a brick archway.

  People are staring at us. At me. At me holding Lyric’s hand. At my outfit. My piercings. It brings me back to the day we were pulled out of that house while the entire neighborhood watched the three malnourished orphans as if they were part of a freak show they couldn’t tear their eyes from.

  “God, it’s like no one’s ever informed them that staring is rude,” Lyric mutters as she slams her palm against the glass door and shoves it open.

  Pretty much all eyes land on us as we step inside the narrow hallway lined with lockers. Some people look interested. Others repulsed. Some utterly baffled.

  Lyric waves to a lot of people and stops to chat with a couple of girls, never releasing my hand. She introduces me to a girl named Maggie, who looks at me like I’m the rebel she wants to walk on the bad side with. The look is nothing new; a lot of girls do it, except Lyric. She just looked at me like she to be my friend.

  “Hey, Ayden.” Maggie offers me her hand, fluttering her eyelashes. “So, where are you from?”

  “Nowhere important.” I don’t take her offered hand. Don’t want to encourage the fluttering of her eyelashes. Don’t want to be looked at like that. Don't want to be looked at at all.

  When Maggie’s eyebrows bow up, Lyric glances at me with her brow cocked. “You’ll have to excuse Ayden,” she says to Maggie. “He’s a man of few words.”

  “Oh, the sexy silent type,” she says, chomping loudly on a piece of gum. “Nice.”

  “No, just the silent, doesn’t like to chat type,” I say, switching my weight uncomfortably, wishing Lyric would end the conversation and just take me to the office so I can check in and get the fuck out of this overcrowded, stuffy hall.

  “I don’t get it.” Maggie blinks at Lyric for help.

  “It doesn’t matter.” Lyric waves good-bye before tugging me down the hallway.

  “We so need to work on your people skills,” she tells me as she steers me through the mob.

  “My people skills are fine.”

  She snorts a laugh. “Okay.”

  I sigh, giving up on the argument, and instead focus on what’s going on around me. Most of the kids look on the preppy side, except for a group lingering around the benches in the quad. I make eye contact with them, figuring they’ll be the best start toward finding my place here. But the tallest guy in the group gives me a hard stare in return, and a curvy girl with purple hair flips me the bird.

  The day only gets shittier from there. Everyone at this damn school seems to hate me, and the other half seems overly interested. I don’t want that. Don’t want their stares. I just want to be left alone, since I’ll be out of here when the week passes.

  I do my best to keep my distance from most people, and spend lunchtime in the bathroom. When fifth period rolls around, though, things really go to shit. It’s PE, which is bad enough, but I also have it with Lyric.

  “You have been avoiding me,” she says as she waltzes up to the bottom bleacher I’m sitting on, waiting for class to start. She has on a red T-shirt and short, black gym shorts that show off her extremely long legs. “What’s up with that?”

  “When was I avoiding you?” I ask, fiddling with the drawstring on my own shorts.

  “At lunch.” She sits down beside me and crosses her legs. “I looked everywhere for you. Where the hell were you?”

  I pick at a hole in the bottom of my shorts. “I ate in the bathroom.”

  Her nose crinkles. “Ew, Ayden. No, no, no. Just no.”

  I shrug. “It was better than being stared at.”

  “Who’s staring at you?”

  I give her a ‘really’ look.

  She sighs. “All right, I’ll give you the staring thing.” She rests her elbows on the bench behind us and reclines back, staring at the gym floor. “My school has apparently never seen someone so gothically adorable.”

  “What does that even mean?”

  She smirks at me. “You know, dark, mysterious, sullen, yet cute.”

  I gape at her. “Do you even have a filter?”

  She swiftly shakes her head. “No way. Where’s the fun in that?”

  I continue to stare at her, impressed and kind of afraid of her. She’s so open. So honest. So unlike me, the guy who barely speaks and who carries pills with him, contemplating suicide. Lyric is my polar opposite.

  “Hey, Lyric.” A guy wearing baggie gym shorts and a school T-shirt comes strolling up to us with a smile on his face. “How’s it going?”

  “Hey, Lanson.” Lyric smiles up at him then leans forward to tie her shoe. “Have you met Ayden?”

  Lanson’s eyes land on me and the friendliness he conveyed when he was staring at Lyric disappears. “Yeah, new guy, right? I think we have English together.”

  “Yeah, I think so.” Heaviness develops in my chest as more attention is focused on me. God, I wish this day would just get over with.

  “You two should hang out,” Lyric suggests with her head still
tipped down as she loops her shoelace.

  Lanson sneers. “Oh yeah, I’m sure we can be best friends.” When Lyric looks up again, his haughtiness turns into a friendly smile. “In fact, I’m having a party this weekend. You two should come.”

  Lyric glances over her shoulder at me. “What do you think? Are you up for a party?”

  Lanson glares at me. I can’t tell if he wants me to agree to go or to say no, but one thing’s for sure: my existence is clearly irritating him.

  I force a tight smile. “Sure, a party sounds fun.”