I won’t talk about my sophomore year. I plotted my own death three times that year. I ran with the worst people I could find. I hurt people, and myself. I dated a spattering of girls I left behind me like a carpet of broken hearts. I had been abandoned and it was drying me up.
Aimes and D had fallen in love. Their love was pure and beautiful and joyous and they celebrated it with a constant adoration that involved no one else, and nothing outside of themselves. They had no time for me, and would make no time for me.
Shadow had been left by Scratch. Guardian had been made to pack up all Less’s things and kick her out of the house, and Artist had no one to play DnD with and no one to amaze. We found a cruel person to obsess over, and, in the midst of this chaos and pain, D and Aimes were gone. Sophomore year was the very heart of darkness. I will not stay here. I cannot look at it.
When Aimes got a car our junior year, she started picking me up for school in the morning. She was dancing a slow dance of misery since D had left her and I was a part of that. I was trying to put her back together, and at the same time not hate her for abandoning me the year before. For the most part, it was working.
One day she picked me up, we got to school, and we both went into the library. A girl caught my eye and Artist drifted away from Aimes and out into the middle of the library where sat a devastating black girl in her coat, with a hat on, hugging a bag to her chest and crying.
“What’s your name?” Artist asked.
“Not in the mood to talk,” she said.
“Name, now,” he said so very gently that the words came out a caress, they came out a sigh, and she looked up at him in wonder. She stopped crying.
“My name is Poet. Who are you?” she said. She saw him then. He was just a wisp of a thing in situations like this. Just an errant breath of wind and a warm spot. Nothing tangible, nothing you could hold or lock onto. Artist, in situations like this, was more air than skin and bone.
“My name is not important. I’m going to show you something.” He extended his hand. “Come with me.”
She stood. She took his hand and he led her to a row of shelves. He pointed at her. “Pick a book.”
“Pick a book. It doesn’t matter which one. It doesn’t matter from where as long as I can see it right now. Pick a book and give it to me.” He had no idea what he was doing. Diving maybe. It was possible he had just taken this girl to the edge of a thing and was jumping off, hoping she would follow. Failure loomed and he stood in its face and grinned, arms out, eyes shut.
She handed him a book.
“I’m going to show you something beautiful,” he said, “to ease your heartache.” He took the book in his hands and kissed the binding. He opened it out and facing her, and her eyes lit up.
“How did you do that?” Poet said.
He handed her the open book. “Choose another.”
She held the book up to me and showed me the picture of a rose. “How did you do that?”
“You needed beauty. I am drawn to it. I was drawn to you. Choose another book. Let’s see if I am right, or if that was a fluke.”
She hugged the book she had just pulled to her chest and grabbed another off the shelf. Artist kissed the binding and opened it facing her.
She burst into tears. “How are you doing this?”
And he did not know. None of us knew. No one knew how he could just summon magic, just conjure beauty up from anywhere. He had been doing it for so long and so often now that he never questioned it anymore.
She flipped the book around and he could see the picture of an Asian woman bathing in a pool.
“Another, or have you had enough?” Artist said.
“How long can you do this?” Poet said.
“How long will you cry if I don’t?”
She tucked the book she had just chosen under her arm and reached out and snatched another off the shelf. She handed it to Artist and he grinned.
He looked at the closed book and shook his head. “This one is special,” he said. “Watch this.”
He walked over to her without opening it and wrapped his arms around her so that the book was in front of her and she was in his arms. He held the book half closed and began to flip through it.
It had been defaced. Someone had made a flip book out of it, and in the pages was a man running with a balloon that was slowly lifting him off the page. She gasped.
She spun, her face an inch away from his. “Who are you?” she said.
“Smear Lord of Ire, and I must away. The Queens are calling,” he said. She grabbed him by the sides of the head and kissed his cheek.
He walked away from Poet. He went to the Queens.
The Queens of Waynesville High School was a set of four girls who held the world in their palms. They were, each of them, beautiful, funny, cool, and all of them were geniuses. They were Aimes, Hardly, Flix, and Sprint. And in his way, Artist was obsessed with each of them. All for very different reasons.
Aimes was his friend. She was probably, at the time, his best friend and she knew him better than almost anyone. She was kind and gorgeous and witty. She never let him get away with anything because she knew when he was full of shit and she was a supporter. A firm place to put your back.
Artist loved Hardly. Maybe a little too much. He held a soft flame in his chest slowly flickering, barely noticeable to any who would look. Every now and then he would catch himself staring at her and pull back. Hide his eyes or run away completely. When high school was over, and all of it was a memory, the only real regret he felt for his graduation was that he had not walked arm-in-arm with Hardly. He walked with a lesser girl. And after the hats had been thrown, and the final applause had been given, he heard Hardly yelling his name from rows back. He turned, and in one brilliant moment, she yelled out, “I love you!” It was pure. It was platonic. And it was easy to answer, the simplest, easiest answer when he yelled back, “I love you, too.” A pure emotion that made him feel clean and carried him through dark times, and the horrors that awaited him. When the worst came calling, in the distance behind him, he heard Hardly yelling that she loved him.
Flix had an odd beauty. She was certifiably unique in every way. Nothing about her spoke of anything or anyone else. And her face did a thing Artist could just stare at for days. When she smiled, there was a break. Her smile moved like a wave rolling on a beach. It would rise up and, when you thought it was done, it would roll just a little bit bigger. Then it would wilt slowly as if reluctant to go, eager to return to the place it had been. The Four Queens loved to talk to us. They made time for us every morning, and all morning, before the beginning bells, Artist would snatch glimpses of Flix’s smile.
Sprint was hilarious. Dark hair, wide eyes, and milk white skin. She was the funniest person Artist knew and her face did wild and amazing things when she spoke. She was gorgeous, just like all the queens, but to Sprint that beauty came with apprehension. Sprint was spoken for.
Teddy had told Shadow he was obsessed with Sprint. Teddy confessed one day, while sitting across the room staring at Sprint, that she was the coolest, most beautiful, funniest and smartest girl he had ever known. He called her the perfect girl and said she was the only thing in the entire world he wanted.
From that moment on, Sprint belonged to Teddy. He had claimed her in some significant and completely ridiculous way. Teddy at the end of junior year. Yet all during senior year, Sprint belonged to Teddy.
Neither Shadow nor Artist believed she in any way belonged to Teddy. She was not his property. That is not what this is about. It was not that Teddy had called dibs and she could not be with anyone else. The fact was that Teddy’s devotion to Sprint was so true and so pure that to see them apart was blasphemy. Even after he was gone and would never be seen again, his soul hung over her. She was draped with a love she never knew. Blessed by a heart that was never her own, and she was better for it. For even if you never knew who loved you, the fact that you were loved makes you more than you were.
The Four Queens of Waynesville High School held court in the library every morning in the same four chairs sitting in four corners looking at each other. I will never know for sure what they talked about, or what they figured out. It was a collection of some of the greatest minds that ever came out of that or any other school. All I can say is that they always had time for me. They always tried to give me guidance and they were always kind, if a little commanding.
When I joined them that day, they looked at each other for a long time before Hardly glanced at me then back to Sprint. “Should we tell him?” Hardly asked.
“Yes, you should definitely tell him,” Shadow said. “You gotta, have to, and you’re gonna. Tell me now, tell me quick.”
Hardly looked at Flix, who spread that breaking smile across her face and looked at Aimes. Aimes giggled and nodded. Hardly took over.
“We were talking the other day, the four of us, and we decided that if ever history went backwards and we were suddenly thrown back in the Dark Ages, the first thing we would do would be to find you.”
Guardian came out and stared at them. The idea of these four girls wanting him to lead them and protect them was so intense for him that he could only stare at Hardly until Sprint started to talk. Then his head swung to her.
“You would keep us safe and you would tell us what to do next. With you, we would stand a chance. With you, we would be okay,” Sprint said.
“So, just in case,” Flix said. “Be ready, because we are counting on you.”
“I stand prepared and vigilant,” Guardian said.
To this day, it is his favorite compliment he has ever gotten.
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 1: Teardrop Road, available on Amazon.