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If I'd Known_The Cursed Series Part 1, Page 2

Rebecca Donovan

I’m not the easiest person to get along with. I had to promise I’d back off after threatening too many boyfriends with missing body parts if they hurt her. Let her be the “adult” and make her own decisions. So I refused to acknowledge any of my mother’s boyfriends again.

  Then came Nick.

  Nick was careful with her from the beginning. Asked her out for coffee for their first date and then lunch. Eventually, dinner and a movie. He slowly got close to her. And, in that time, I let him in too.

  He was different. Until he wasn’t.

  I pull back the covers for her to climb in.

  It’s the same full bed she’s slept in since she was a girl. This room is basically the same as when she shared it with her sisters, growing up. Dried flowers hanging from pins along the windowsill memorialize loves lost. Layers of time wallpaper every surface. Photos, art projects, yellowing band posters—constant reminders of the life we’ll never escape. It’s so … depressing.

  Nick’s soothing cologne lingers, at odds with the offensive herbal incense my mother burns—another indication that his presence was always a contradiction to everything within these walls.

  “Lana, I’m—”

  “Sorry. I know.” Crimson stains blossom on the white pillow as blood begins to drip from her nose. “Shit, Mom.”

  I reach for the box of tissues and pull out a few. She takes them from me and presses the cluster under her nose. The hint of dark circles creeps beneath her eyes.

  I fumble with the top of the prescription bottle. Dumping a small pill into my palm, I hand it to her along with the glass of water by her bedside. She takes it, swallowing it down.

  “I’ll get some ice.”

  By the time I return with ice wrapped in a kitchen towel, a scarlet pile of tissues has overtaken her nightstand. Blood trickles from beneath the tissue, staining her upper lip. I swap out the tissues for a damp facecloth and hand her the ice to apply to the bridge of her nose.

  “You’re going to be late for school,” she mutters in a nasally voice, unable to open her eyes.

  “I know.” I was always going to be late, but she doesn’t need to know that. There was no way I could have gotten the laundry done and still been on time. So now, I’ll just be … later. “Will you be okay while I get ready?”

  “Go,” she urges quietly.

  Hesitating a second, I leave the door cracked, so I can hear her if she calls for me.

  When I return to check on her, she’s asleep. But I know it’s a troubled sleep by the way her brows pinch together, the pain apparent behind her lids. I brush the wisps of honey-blond hair away from her face. She’s warm to the touch, a hint of a fever. She’s been suffering from migraines for as long as I can remember, triggered by stress and … heartache. I don’t know why her body betrays her every time someone else does. Maybe her heart can’t handle being broken.

  Over the past few months, despite being truly happy, the migraines have kept coming, accompanied by nosebleeds. Last week, she scared us when she grabbed hold of the counter to stay upright. Nick set up an appointment with her doctor for next week, even though she insisted it was nothing.

  I watch her for a moment longer. Her face is pale, except for the fully formed shadows under her eyes and the flush of fever on her cheeks. Her lids twitch. This isn’t nothing, and it’s starting to freak me out.

  I refill the glass of water at her bedside and leave a note, telling her I’ll call her during lunch and that she has to pick up or else I’ll come home. I leave her in her restless sleep as I slip out the front door.

  My chest hurts and my whole body is weak with exhaustion. And I wasn’t even the one who loved him.

  Chapter Two

  “He didn’t love you!” I hear my grandmother yell.

  I slowly crack my door, just enough so I can see without being caught.

  “He did! And maybe he still does,” my mother cries back, her face wet with tears. “Just let me call him.”

  My grandmother is holding my mom’s phone. “If he loved you, then where is he?”

  My mother’s wide eyes are too stunned for words. A cry escapes her mouth as she runs out, slamming the front door behind her so hard, it cracks.

  I hand the forged note, claiming I was at a doctor’s appointment this morning, to Mrs. Kellerman in the front office. She gives it a suspicious glance as she scribbles on the tardy slip.

  I’m about to walk out the office door when I hear, “Lana.”

  Maybe if I ignore him, he’ll go away.

  “I was just going to call you to my office.”

  I slowly turn, armed with an overly fake smile. “Mr. Garner. You know how much our visits mean to me, but I’ve had a really rough morning, and I need to get to geometry.” It’s not easy, being sarcastic and honest at the same time, but I’ve somehow mastered it.

  My smile drops when I see Ms. Lewis in the doorway of his office, her hands on her hips. There’s no need to fake anything with her. I can’t stand her and she knows it … because I told her in front of the entire class last year when I had her for algebra.

  “Sorry, this can’t wait,” Mr. Garner says, the apology sincere in his eyes. “Hopefully, it won’t take long.”

  With my teeth clenched behind a stiff smile, I give in and walk into his office. I really don’t need this. And I’m not exactly in the mood to hold anything back.

  “Have a seat.” Mr. Garner gestures to one of the thinly padded wooden chairs in front of his desk, closing the door behind me.

  I drop my messenger bag on the floor and slouch in the chair with my arms crossed—all contrived pleasantries lost.

  He walks around the desk and sits. “You’re welcome to have a seat as well, Ms. Lewis.”

  She chooses to remain standing, sidling next to his desk with her hands still attached to her hips. Her face is pinched in a severe scowl. She’s trying to look authoritative. Instead, she looks like she’s eaten too many Toxic Waste candies. I ignore her and look to Mr. Garner for an explanation.

  “Ms. Lewis is concerned that you may have helped Tori on her algebra test.” The silent apology doesn’t leave his eyes. He doesn’t want to be here any more than I do.

  “I’m not in Ms. Lewis’s algebra class this year,” I answer simply.

  The veins protrude along Ms. Lewis’s neck, sticking out like chicken bones. She purses her lips even more, struggling to keep from exploding.

  “I know that,” Mr. Garner says calmly. “I brought that up too. But Ms. Lewis is convinced that you—”

  “Cheated!” Ms. Lewis snaps, unable to hold it in any longer. “You cheated! And I won’t stand for it!”

  “I’m not in your class, Ms. Lewis,” I repeat calmly, like I’m talking to a child throwing a temper tantrum. “And didn’t Tori take the test in front of you? You were in the room, right?”

  Her face reddens and her eyes twitch. It’s hard to watch this woman coming apart. I raise an eyebrow in disapproval.

  “She is not an A student. It’s not possible she did that well on her own!”

  “So you’re saying you’re not an effective teacher? You’d rather believe your students cheated than passed your class?” I question coolly. “Do you get off on flunking your students, Ms. Lewis?”

  Ms. Lewis’s mouth opens as she blinks repeatedly, a small squeak escaping.

  “Lana,” Mr. Garner warns. “Ms. Lewis, I know how hard you’ve worked to get Tori engaged in her classwork. Perhaps your commitment has finally paid off.”

  Ms. Lewis remains aghast. I think she’s about to cry when she storms out of the office.

  “I’m glad we cleared that up,” I say cheerily, reaching for the strap of my bag as I stand. “Keep doing your thing, Mr. Garner.”

  “Lana,” he calls to me before I can escape.

  I slowly pivot to face him. He’s wearing a ridiculous lime-green sweater-vest over a blue shirt with a yellow tie. He reminds me of an Easter egg. The man has no sense of fashion. When I look up at him, he’s trying to hi
de an amused smile.

  He adjusts the glasses on his face. “I’d really like to make it through the last three weeks of school without adding another page to your file.” He rests his hand on top of the three-inch tattered file folder bound with a thick green elastic band.

  “I will try to stay away, Mr. Garner. But they keep sending me back to you.” I look around the small office, its walls covered with framed cliché posters of achievement and goals. “How can you sit in here all day and not want to break something?”

  He lets out a breathy laugh.

  Mr. Garner took over for Mrs. Colstrom after she had a heart attack at the beginning of the year. Not my fault, I swear! She was a naive, bubbly little thing who thought everyone could be saved by an inspirational slogan and a lollipop. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough lollipops in the world to save me. Instead of wasting her breath on words of inspiration every time I was sent to the office, she’d let me work on my assignments in the library. I actually got more done there than if I’d stayed in class. And, sometimes, I even got to catch up on sleep.

  In the short time Mr. Garner’s been here, we’ve become well acquainted, considering I’m sent to his office at least once a week. I blame the Honesty curse and defensive educators. He knows I make decent enough grades. I get my assignments done—eventually. And I don’t start fights on school property—mostly.

  “Be good, Lana,” Mr. Garner calls after me as I pass through the office.

  My platform shoes clunk loudly on the linoleum as I continue down the hall in my pleated skirt, thigh-high tights and fitted tank. I pass by the dented and busted green lockers of the sophomore wing and reach mine just as the bell rings. The halls fill with a burst of voices.

  “Please tell me you told that pruney bitch to sit and spin.” Tori appears beside my open locker, sparkling in a strapless sequined top and skintight capris.

  “You knew I was going to wear my platforms, didn’t you?” I grin, eyeing her five-inch red pumps.

  “I can’t let you be taller than me when we walk down the hall,” she says with a huff. “Besides, I look killer in these shoes.”

  “Until you start bitching about your feet hurting,” I tease. “And, no, I didn’t tell the bitch off. But I did question her dedication as a teacher. That didn’t go over very well.”

  Tori laughs. “If she only knew.”

  “Not my fault she doesn’t know how to hide her password.”

  I printed out the test in advance and helped Tori complete it. Tori pretended to work on the problems during the exam but passed in the correct one at the end—well, not completely correct. We didn’t want to be that obvious.

  “Speaking of”—I reach into my messenger bag and pull out her assignments—“here you go.”

  “I don’t know why you bother. You know it’s not important to me.” She takes the books from me anyway.

  “I’m not starting junior year without you,” I tell her.

  My motives for doing Tori’s homework and papers are purely selfish. She’s the only person I claim as a friend in this school, and I won’t lose her because she doesn’t give a shit about her future. Most of the students in this school don’t have a future worth looking forward to—myself included. But being here is better than working a minimum wage job or dealing on the streets. Might as well show up for the next two years.

  “It’s not like I’ll graduate.”

  “Shut up.” I reply. “You are graduating.”

  I made a promise to her father that he’d see her graduate. She’ll be the first in his family to actually hold a diploma, and well … I promised. And breaking a promise is worse than lying, so it’s happening even if I have to hack into every teacher’s computer and do all of her assignments for the next two years.

  “Whatever,” she says with a dramatic roll of her eyes. “You’re coming over after school, right?”

  I pause. Tori’s eyes tighten.

  “I have to go home first. I didn’t bring my clothes for tonight.”

  Tori still appears suspicious. “We’re going out. Friday night is my night.”

  “I know. Relax, okay?”

  I close my locker, and we begin walking down the hall. We’re not in the same class, but Tori has no problem with being late … ever.

  “Nick left, and my mom’s taking it pretty hard. I want to check on her before we go out.” I stop in front of my classroom. “I’ll explain at lunch.”

  Tori shoots me a death glare. “Sorry your mom’s sad, but you’re not bailing.”

  Tori does whatever she wants, when she wants, and she doesn’t care who she has to shove out of the way to do it. I’m her best friend, and even I know she’s a bitch. Admittedly, I’m one too. Obviously, Consideration isn’t her curse. But, ironically, Loyalty is.

  Somehow, I survive geometry and American government without shoving a pen through my temple.

  “What are you up to tonight?”

  I try to ignore the voice coming from beside my locker, but sadly, he’s still standing there when I close it.

  “Nothing with you,” I respond. Then I turn and walk away.

  But he’s persistently annoying. I don’t look at him as I strut purposely down the hall, hoping he’ll take the not-so-subtle hint.

  “There’s a party—”

  “Not going,” I finish before he can tell me where.

  “C’mon, Lana. Don’t be like that,” he pleads, catching up to me.

  I continue walking. I think he disappears into the cafeteria as I pass it. But I’d have to be paying attention to him to know. I enter the darkened chemistry lab and pull a key out of my purse. With a quick glance around the empty room, I unlock the closet door and slip inside.

  The small space is filled with rows of bottles neatly alphabetized on shelves. This is the period Mr. Tilman “eats lunch” with Miss Hall in the librarian’s office, so I know I won’t get caught. They’re not eating lunch, trust me. I’d pour one of these chemicals into my eyes before sneaking in on that again. But it was worth the lifetime of psychological trauma so I could copy his key to the supply closet.

  I didn’t steal Mr. Tilman’s key for the chemicals, although I could probably make some serious money selling certain ingredients to the right people. I swiped it so I’d have a place to get away from the bullshit that is high school. It’s like my own private office … that smells like sulfur. There are trade-offs for everything in life.

  Sitting at the small desk in the corner, I dig for my phone in my bag. I dial my mother twice before she picks up.

  “How are you feeling?” I ask her.

  “I’m, uh … okay.”

  “You’re not,” I counter. Her hesitation makes the lie obvious. “Any more nosebleeds?”


  “Did you eat anything?”

  “Not yet. I’ve been sleeping,” she replies, a sob escaping. “Lana, I’ll be fine. I’m just … upset. It’s nothing you have to worry about.”

  “Go back to sleep. I’ll see you when I get home.”

  I rest my head in my hand, rubbing my forehead. I am worried. I could sit here and curse Nick for convincing my mother he was in love with her. And I do. But there’s something going on other than hurt feelings.

  I close my eyes against the roiling heat in my gut. I look down at the ring and pull it off, rolling it between my fingers. There’s a date etched on the inside—October 7, 2000. He’s been married for more than sixteen years. My stomach turns at the betrayal.

  I slide the ring onto my thumb where it fits perfectly. Good luck explaining this to your wife, asshole.

  I find Tori outside the cafeteria, sitting on the stone wall with some girl. I sit next to Tori, opening the yogurt I picked up on my way.

  “Hey, Lana,” the girl says. “I was just talking about you. I can’t believe you turned Coby down. I don’t think he’s ever heard the word no.”

  “Or maybe he chooses not to,” Tori adds sharply.

  “Who’s Coby?” I ask
, completely lost. I insert a spoonful of yogurt into my mouth.

  The girls look at each other and then at me.

  “Coby Walker. The captain of … everything,” the girl explains in disbelief. “He asked you to a party tonight, and you totally shut him down.”

  I shake my head, not following, and continue to eat my yogurt.

  Tori laughs. “You’re unbelievable,” she says with a shake of her head.

  “Whatever,” I reply dismissively. “Is Nina meeting up with us tonight?”

  “She has to work the early shift, so she’ll be out by eleven thirty,” Tori replies.

  “What are we doing? The Basement?”

  “You get into The Basement?” the girl interrupts, her mouth hanging open.

  “Who are you?” I ask, taking a moment to focus on her.

  She’s thin and angular with her hair pulled up in a messy bun that I know firsthand takes way more time to get right than it looks. She has this European thing about her with the almond shape of her eyes and the thin slope of her nose. She’s pretty in an I’m-starving-myself kind of way.

  “Emory. We have English lit together.”

  I nod like it means something. It doesn’t.

  “Lana doesn’t participate in high school,” Tori explains.

  “But she’s in class every day—mostly,” Emory says, baffled. “You weren’t there this morning.”

  Tori laughs. “I mean, she doesn’t get involved in all the gossip bullshit. She has no idea who anyone is. Status means nothing to her.”

  “And it matters to you?” I question.

  “Not really,” Tori replies with a shrug. “But I know what’s going on. Who’s who. It’s … entertaining, like a Latin soap opera—overly dramatic and predictable. But you’re completely oblivious.”

  “Because it doesn’t matter,” I say simply. “We’re here for four years. This shit means nothing in the real world, where we actually have to survive.”

  “Not to us. But to them”—she nods toward Emory—“it defines them.”

  “That’s pathetic.”

  Emory’s face reddens, and I realize I was a bit too honest. I don’t apologize for being too honest, otherwise that’s all I’d be doing.