I don't know what news was worse. Finding out that the Luxens had moved back or that my mother was planning a 'welcome back' dinner with them. I'd have to toss a coin up on that one.
"It's not THAT bad Azalea." My mother—whom I'll often refer to as The Bitch—places down the plate she was inspecting, before reaching her arm across the kitchen table. She grips my hand and squeezes it affectionately.
"I understand why you're upset." No, no you don't. "But you must move on from the past and throw away the grudge you have against all of his family."
I blow out hot air, trying to contain my irritation. I could feel the blood in my veins boil at the sight of her feigned-sympathy: "Mom, seriously. I’ve told you a billion times before. I really don't have a grudge against his family—only his sorry ass."
She drops my hand with a scowl, receding back to the sink to continue scrubbing the dishes. I watch as her movements become rigid, the sponge that she’s holding squishing tighter in her grasp: "You seriously have to stop, Azalea. I know he was horrible to you and Kate for the last two months before they moved," three months, I think to myself, "but before that time, you two were the best of friends..." This was before he became all popular and bullied--no, tormented us. He RUINED our last year of middle school with his horrible friends.
Her back was facing me, but I could sense the irritation radiating off of her like heat from the sun. Knowing perfectly well that this conversation would make her blood pressure rise, I decide to not to test her any longer. Instead, I rake my fingers through my matted mess of hair: "Mom, I know you and Mrs. Luxen are really good friends, but Will and I aren't. And you seriously can't make us be."
"That's not my intention. Stop putting words into my mouth Azalea.” she scoffs, throwing down the towel she was holding to dry the plates. A part of me understood. I understood where she was coming from and why she was trying to grasp at straws. HER childhood best friend (Will's Mom) was coming back after years away. Who wouldn't want to rekindle such a flame over some beers? The problem was, she didn't want to rekindle over some beers. She wanted to rekindle by trying to pair Will and I up. The two had this bogus dream when they were younger that their children (Will and I) would end up together so that they’d legally family. Everything seemed to be working for them as well. We were the best of friends and did everything together. That was, until, Will decided to rain hell fire upon me.
I stand up from the table but she continues promptly, "Maybe not at the moment, but I guarantee you and Mrs. Luxen will try some kind of group activity to get us together, like that stupid bingo game last time." Before she can respond with another sarcastic remark, I cut her off, "I'll go to the stupid dinner tonight, but don't even try some stupid stunt. Will and I are history, and I’m sorry but that’s never going to change." I cut her off once more by retreating up the steps to my room. From the distance I can hear her swearing and the familiar sound of phone dials. She’s probably calling up Mrs. Luxen, but I don't care. No matter what she does in effort to revive our friendship, it can't take back what HE did.
I'm up the steps and out of my mother's range of fire, but I'm not free of some parental scolding: "Az, can I speak to you for a second?" I peer over my shoulder, as my hand connects with my silver doorknob. "Please." My father is leaning against his own bedroom door, a wary expression hanging across his aged face. My mom once made this awful joke that’s burned into my mind every time I think of the smile lines on my fathers face: “you know, your father resembles cheese! He’s getting older and stinkier by the day but that only makes him more delectable!” Yeah, I still can't get over it and i’m, what the cool kids call, emotionally scarred.
Sighing in defeat, I swivel around to face him. His beard has grown out a bit. New grey hairs shine against his dark brown hair. Like me, he had an untamable mane of knotty curls that just refused to listen to any brush or straightener. You can really tell which parents I resemble appearance-wise.
"What was that about downstairs? I heard everything.” He gestures towards the stairs with his thumb, eyebrows furrowing like a squirrels tail. He already knew, but he wanted me to say it anyway.
"Nothing worth talking about." I huff, impatiently tapping my foot on the ground. He remains silent, his gaze staring deep into my soul. Seriously, I hate when he does this! It makes me feel uneasy. This goes on for about five more minutes. His unnerving stare, my impatient tapping.
I couldn't take it any longer, "Okay! Okay!" I sigh, "the Luxens are moving back, and mom is throwing them a welcome back dinner. I am so done with everything right now, and she just isn’t getting that I refuse to be his friend” I close my eyes, pinching the bridge of my nose so to ease the sudden stabs of pain in my head. Just the mention of him made me irritated.
"I had already guessed by your permanent scowl." He cracks a smile, revealing his perfect pearly white teeth that I was unfortunate enough not to inherit. I have a slightly angled top canine that three years of braces just couldn't fix—courtesy of my mother's genetics.
"So you understand my feelings about this? Perfect because that means you can talk mom out of it." It's bad enough I'll have to deal with him at our school. There’s a 62% possibility that he’ll be in my classes. However, at least I can avoid him there. Winding hallways and a thousand people will be at my benefit. But when he's living down the block and constantly over for dinners? I'll have to endure his constant company. Couldn't she spare me ONE dinner?
"Az, please don't make this harder on your mother. She hasn't seen her friend, in what, a year?" I roll my eyes, arguing: "They talk over the phone like every other hour."
"You know that's not the same.""And Facebook." "Not the same.""And Skype.""Still isn't the same as in person."
"And Instagram, and Amino, and Twitter. Hell, I even think she downloaded snapchat to send Mrs. Luxen a selfie with her new curtains the other day!"
"I have no idea what the half of that is. But I promise, none of it is like seeing your bestfriend in person." He leans forward, walking towards the top of the steps. "Just try to be good, this dinners means a lot to her." And then he's gone, down the steps to see the devil incarnation herself. Good try dad. But you can't use your guilt act on me.
• • •
The bedside clock strikes 7:00pm, as I nervously toy with the strings on my ratty old hoodie. In a matter of moments my mom would call—no, order me down to greet the Luxens. They had arrived a total of 8 minutes and 43 seconds ago. Yes, I was counting down to the decimal. I know the moment she catches sight of my messy unwashed hair, old faded hoodie, and stained pajama pants, she'd just about have a stroke.
"Azalea! Please come down here. Our guests have been waiting patiently." And there it was. The chime to the bell of death. My palms grow clammy, as I squeeze my eyes shut tightly.
Am I really going to do this? Can I really silence my inner ninja, restrain myself from Bruce Leeing his ass, around the asshole who threw away years of friendship for a few months of popularity? "Azalea!!!"
"I GET IT! I'M COMING!" I angrily use the weight of my feet to kick off my bed, throwing my hair up in an extremely messy bun. With much hesitation, I trudge slowly to the top of the staircase.
With each step descending down the steps, the voices become more prominent. I feel my heart beating faster and the massive black hole in my stomach growing heavier. It somehow sucks up every ounce of my confidence, yet it so conveniently leaves behind my full bladder. I really have to pee.
I hesitantly enter the kitchen, my eyes sticking to the floor beneath us. And as predicted, my mother's response to my outfit is...well...
"AZALEA BENNET! WHAT IN GODS NAME ARE YOU WEARING?!?! DID YOU NOT SEE THE OUTFIT I SPECIFICALLY LAID OUT ON YOUR BED?! PLEASE TELL ME YOU AT LEAST SHOWERED- OH-. OH GOD, YOU DIDN'T. AND TO THINK I BOUGHT YOU THOSE SCENTED BATH BEADS. YOU KNOW, IF IT WEREN’T FOR YOU, I COULD BE IN PARIS RIGHT NOW-"
"MOM," I fight a smile and choke back a laugh, "calm down, seriously-" I hesitantly look up from the floor paneling, expecting to see my mother standing in front of me. However, I instead spot a pair of murky grey eyes only feet away from me: Will.
I see that my mother is, in fact, a few feet behind him, a seemingly well-hidden smirk beneath her otherwise angry face. Will. He continues to stand motionless in front of me. His grey eyes sweep over mine, a bored expression paved across his sun-kissed face. I couldn't help it, I had to once him over just to see what I was dealing with here.
He was always a decent looking guy. Even as a child, younger girls seemed drawn to his boyish face. What with his pale skin that resembled the finest China, grey eyes the color of the sky after a storm passes, and brown—almost black hair that seemed to contrast perfectly with his otherwise light features. And even now, his once lanky frame seems much broader and sculpted. His China skin is now significantly tanner from long nights at beaches, and ebony black hair grown out enough so that it sweeps to his left temple. Even now, I can see the boy that was once him. A different, better, him.
His rosy lips tilt upward and into a smile, "Hello Azzie." The use of my childhood nickname catches me off guard, as my mouth hangs open lightly, “It's been a while, hasn’t it? About a year, if I can remember correctly."
"Hi." I mutter lamely, my fingers pulling at the strings of my hoodie once more. My ninjas are too busy processing what is happening. Like, why isn’t he being an asshole like he was at school? I guess the adults seem to realize the growing tension because they finally find the wits to step in.
"Azalea!" Mrs. Luxen steps in between Will and I, breaking our unnerving stare off. She pulls me into a half hug, practically suffocating me with the fur of her coat and a pungent, flowery perfume. Even though it’s strong, the flowers are so reminiscent of my childhood and bring forth a warm feeling in my chest "How are you, my dear? I mean, look at you! You’re practically glowing! Your skin looks so much clearer since we last met, and those teeth! So pearly white and pretty!” I knew she was bullshitting slightly, but it was all in good fun. I seriously loved her infectiously positive attitude.
"I'm...great!" I struggle to get a breath with the overwhelming smell of perfume and fur in my nostrils.
"That's great!" She steps back again, willing clean air to return back to my nostrils in her wake. I try to take a deep breath in recovery. "We have so much to talk about over dinner! I can’t wait to hear about your growing rock your mother mentioned over the phone!”
I eye a bored-looking Will behind her, whose eyes seem to drift in and out of thought. There was certainly something different about him, but different doesn't necessarily mean good. "Yeah, I can’t wait to catch up as well."
Dinner went as well as you would expect it go, what with our parents forcing us to sit next to eachother, and their idea of conversation being a bombardment of stupid questions:
"Will you have classes together?"
"Will you sit at the same lunch table?"
"Will you be locker neighbors?"
"Will you share a locker together?"
My inner Titan nearly awoke at the mention of the last question, and Will almost choked on the steak he was munching down on.
I recover shortly with a rather forced smile to Mrs. Luxen, before I send a glare over to the sole culprit of these questions—my mother: “Can you please stop asking such stupid questions?"
My mother’s lips pucker like a fish, nosey eyes reverting back to the food on her fork, "I'm just curious is all. No need to be so feisty." Then, as if on cue, Mrs. Luxen and her turn to each other with matching expression. Not much to my surprise, they both bust out into a fit of laughter. Somehow, the two childhood friends had this way of exchanging communicative glances. It was the same way my best friend Kate and I would just look at each other and know what the other was thinking. It’s a best friend thing I understood, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t any less infuriating to watch when it was at your expense.
"Yeah, a little too curious if you ask me." I mutter under my breath, using my fork to move the potatoes on my plate over to the peas, mixing them into a chunky white glob.
"What did you say?” She snaps out of her fit of laughter, eyes narrowed down at me.
"Nothing, okay?” I inwardly roll my eyes, knowing that I’d probably die if I made my discontent any more visible.
I hear a cough, and my father so brilliantly chooses now to interrupt the conversation: “So Will, what classes are you taking this marking period?"
Will finally tunes into the conversation at hand, gaze moving up from his empty plate (seriously, he had like five helpings of mashed potatoes, how do guys eat so FAST?!) toward my father, "Well, sir. I'm thinking of majoring in forensics or anatomy in the future. When I talked to the school counselor over the phone the other day, she recommended many different physics and biology classes I should take. Those will probably be my focus for this school year.” This catches me off guard. Science? Was he really thinking of pursuing the career he had talked none-stop about as a child? For the past few years, he had given Kate and I the impression that he had given up such dream for the life of athleticism. Before he moved away in eighth grade, Will had completely dropped all of his academic motivation. Instead, he joined the soccer team. It was a huge surprise for his childhood bestfriends who had THOUGHT they knew everything about him. It was bizarre to see Will completely disregard every academic interest once important to him.
I cannot help but stifle the low chuckle that erupts from my chest, "Is that so?" The condescending tone in my voice is very obvious, "I seem to remember you nearly failing a biology class because of your football practices in the eighth grade."
From the side, I can see his defined back muscles tense up. In a rigid motion, he slowly turns to face me, "I think you are remembering incorrectly, Az. I didn't drop any class." I see desperation clouding his already clouded eyes. He is asking, no begging for me to keep quiet. I guess his mother didn't know? His esteemed, academic mother.
"You failed a class, Will?” Mrs. Luxen stares at her son intently, her usually calm voice holding some extra weight to the syllables.
"No, mother. I didn't." He adds a bit too quickly. She narrows her eyes into slits, lips pulling into a straight line. "Azalea must be thinking of my soccer phase, where I was beginning my love for sports, but I assure you mother that I was just as dedicated to my studies then." Liar. He is a filthy liar. Still, I can't help but feel guilty for even putting him in such a situation. I knew as well as anybody what an academic-crazy parent is like.
"I see." Is all she says, before turning back to her plate of vegetables. I internally exhale a sigh of relief. I may strongly dislike the guy, but I would hate to see his mother disown him on behalf of my loud mouth.
When I turn my gaze away from Mrs. Luxen, I catch a glimpse of what appeared to be a scowl. At me. I can see the venom in his eyes, as a rather angry, sadistic smile plays at his lips. "Well, Azalea. I sure hope you’re as excited for this school year as I am. I cannot wait for the surprises that are in store for us." Oh, hell. He’s pissed. Super pissed. But I refuse to let his subtle threats get under my skin. I won’t be the scared little girl I was before.
I decide to return the malicious smile, an equivalent amount of venom hanging from my words, "As am I, William." Unfortunately, he doesn't realize screwing me over is a double-edged sword. One that I've been preparing to wield since the day he first left.
Revenge will be ЅᏇℰℰᏆ.
• • •
The rest of the weekend passed by way too quickly.
The moment Will and his mother had left, I dialed up Kate and broke the horrible news to her. Having not realized she wasn’t ready for such news, the poor girl nearly choked on the corn dog she was eating and, In her words, “shit her pants.” Like me, Kate was ditched by the son-of-a-bitch and had developed a deep-seeded resentment for him within time.
Needless to say, we both had spent the weekend on the phone together. We drew up different plans to even out the playing field, knowing perfectly well that this version of Will would most likely be just (if not more) popular in high school. Unlike before, we knew to be prepared for the bullying that would inevitably occur to us. Kate created scenarios that would happen during school, and I talked us through it. For instance, when he would come up to say hi to Kate (which we both agreed he'd do), she'd summon her inner Satan and rip out his guts...Okay, in her own words, she said she’d give him the silent treatment. But to me, it means the same thing.
Finally, the all-anticipated time had come. Monday.
I awake to my father's 'singing’ or what I would consider to be an ancient call to the underworld. It was so horrible and most definitely some kind of toon to disturb the dead. Nevertheless, I was awake with a headache.
"Dad!" I throw myself out of bed with a large sigh. My eyes become temporarily blinded from the bright light pouring in from the hallway window, "PLEASE, STOP."
"Morning Azzie!" He shouts back, and then continues singing what I think was supposed to be Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles.
I huff, rubbing my eyes so they become less blurry. "What the hell am I even going to wear?”Outfits that my mother had laid out the night before coat my floor in bundles; they are all extremely eye-popping and bright. No way in hell. "Come on Azalea, you need to be noticeable and yet unnoticeable." I pick through what was left of my closet. If only I had those crop tops and high-waisted things all the stylish girls wore. It's not that I didn't want them, it was more that everytime my mom offered to take me out shopping for them, I was too lazy or preoccupied with some anime. With those regretful thoughts in mind (and a mental reminder to maybe listen to my mom for once), I settle on my favorite Pepsi tee and jeans.
I shuffle down the steps as my fingers work through the knots in my hair, "Azalea, I can drive you in today if you'd like." My dad offers, the bagel in the toaster popping up like a mole in the ground.
"It's alright dad, I can walk." Ordinarily I would've jumped at his request. I hated walking on freezing January days, especially since my usual hoodie was in the washer. However, I did not want to risk being seen dropped off at school. I didn’t want to give Will anymore ammo to bully and use against me. Though I personally don’t find it a big deal, when you're 17 without a car or even a permit, assholes at school would find it quite funny.
He stares at me skeptically, pouring hot coffee into the '#1 dad' mug I bought him last year. It was the only mug he’d use in the mornings, worn to the point that there was a small chip on the lip. "You sure? It's freezing out. I don't mind, really."
I swallow the bagel in my mouth, eyeing the icey pavement outside. The sight was disheartening, and I could literally feel my fingertips freezing off in a matter of minutes, but I was as stubborn as I was impulsive: “Yeah, don’t worry. School is only a few blocks away, and I sort of need the exercise. I need to start working on that hot summer bod all the Instagram pages are raging about, ya know?”
He gives me a suspicious smile, definitely not buying my half-asses excuse. Luckily, my dad wasn’t as helicopter-parent as my mom. “I guess you're right. About the exercise apart, I mean."
I shoot him an unamused look, "You know, the apple didn't fall far from the tree."
Grabbing his mug of coffee off the counter, he moves to grab the keys and head out the door: “Alright, alright. You better get your lazy butt out the door soon, though, or you’ll be late. You know your mom wouldn’t like that.”
• • •
The walk to school has my ass freezing faster than...whatever the hell freezes fast. I immediately regret not taking up my dads offer to drive me.
Although it wasn't quite snowing, ice coated the pavements in thick translucent layers. Everytime I stepped around one patch, I'd end up slipping on another. Eventually, I just gave up being careful and practically slid my way to school. I could only imagine what I looked like—a teenage girl sliding around like a penguin on broken ice.
The school parking lot wasn't much better. Cars were swerving in everywhere, stealing spots that had been already claimed, sliding on ice and missing students by millimeters. Seriously, they need some kind of security out here.
While carefully navigating my way through the street, I spot Kate's blue 2014 Toyota Corolla enter the swarm of cars. Unlike most teenage drivers (who drove like they were playing GTA), Kate had the driving skills of a 30 year old mother. She was really good and made sure to take extra precaution. Within minutes, she has successfully found a spot close to front doors, and was waiting to greet me.
"Heyo." I sigh, rubbing my frozen hands together in order to feel some kind of feeling in them.
"Hey!" She exclaims excitedly. I look up from my nearly frost-bitten fingers, instantly greeted with her warm, honey-brown orbs. Kate was a bit on the chubbier side with a rounded face and round waistband. Though, the thickness only accentuated her beauty. It gave her big, brown eyes and auburn blond hair the extra adorableness it needed. Needless to say, she wasn't too short on the guy department. She didn’t always catch on because she was super innocent, but guys were always coming up and complimenting her wherever we went. It was sometimes funny to watch the scenario unfold, her overwhelming disinterest in reaction to their attraction.
The sight of my dragons-breath causes shivers down my spine, and I nearly jump in happiness at the sight of the front doors, "Let's get inside, I might turn into a Popsicle if I stay out here any longer."
Today would be the start of a new day. A day with many surprises.