finally free!

As of yesterday, I can honestly pronounce that I have at least four more hours a day (Monday – Saturday) to myself. So spring better come soon…

My mental countdown has timed-out and until finals, I am free. I may sound a little hateful toward swim (but what swimmer isn’t?) but swim is a love-hate relationship. While I’m working my butt off in the pool, then straight to homework and then to bed (all while trying to fit a shower and a decent outfit into the mix), I am a little stressed – not to mention, unhappy – with swim. However, that all collapses when, after an intense race, I take a gander at the times and I got my best one yet. Then, I must go back to work and the pieces of unhappiness collect and form again. Then, when swimming ends, I have so much free time, I don’t know what to do with myself, that I almost want to swim again. Almost. Oh well, I will just make the very best of it…

Also! I promised a little celebratory piece of writing, so I will present you with a strange story I concocted and will probably add to since I have so much FREE (key-word) time. It’s a little depressing and doesn’t make too much sense (I barely understand it myself), however, it was fun to write (as is everything I work on – it’s not worth it if it’s not fun). If there are any questions about the story, feel free to ask, but I doubt I’ll have an understandable answer, let alone explanation. Happy reading! (better set some time aside for this, it’s a long one.)

***

3

Today, on the way home from the bus stop, my older brother and sister are trying to talk to me. I hate talking. I wish language was never invented. I don’t understand how I am so lonely when everyone seems to want to talk to me… I don’t want to talk to them, so why are they pursuing me?

“Char, what do you have planned tonight? Anything special, chica? A date, perhaps? It’s first Friday,” My sister questions me. I just glare at her.

“Dude, what’s up?” My brother begins questioning me also, I think trying to be sincere. So, I glare at him, too. I’ve been getting quite good at this glaring business. I can glare simultaneously at two people. Score one for me.

“Yeah, Char, why don’t you come join me at the gallery tonight if you haven’t got plans? It’s super fun, always. Besides, I want you to meet my friends finally.”

“And your boyfriend, too, Mags,” my brother adds.

“Oh, be quiet, Jules.” My sister blushes after this. I quietly comment, “I didn’t know you had a boyfriend, Margaret.”

“Oh, well, yes, I guess I do, but I only didn’t tell you because he isn’t technically a boyfriend yet. We are still dating, I guess.” Technically? What is this technical business? I’ve never had a boyfriend before, so how should I know? Maybe I can ask someone later. Procrastination is key here because I don’t actually care. When am I ever going to get a boyfriend, anyway?

“Yeah, yeah, Mags, you know it’s true,” my brother teases her more. I sort of wish I was part of this brotherly/sisterly teasing; it looks so lighthearted and fun. But that is not within my comfort-zone – I am not lighthearted and fun. My CZ is quite tight, too. No exceptions.

“Anyway, as I was asking before the Almighty Julian interrupted us so rudely, will you hang out tonight? I’d really like you to come. Puh-leeeeeease, Char?”

How can I say no? I’m a softy…who never has plans. “OK.”

“Woot, woot!”

“I’m impressed, Charlotte, a night out on the town,” my brother tries teasing. More glares from me follow.

“OK, OK, don’t burn a hole through my skull or anything,” my brother tries to be funny.

“I wonder if she could actually do that…Would you teach me how if you could, Char?” my sister asks.

“I guess,” my halfhearted reply comes out weary as we walk up our porch steps and into the house.

4

My cat has begun paying extra-special attention to me, lately. I love my cat a lot, she’s quite small and all black and she’s named Caterina, but we mostly just call her Cat. (My older brother and sister thought that when they named her it was very unique, they thought they had made up a new name, but it turns out that it’s an actual name. So whenever we see or meet someone named Caterina, it’s like a mini inside joke with our family. But I don’t laugh at it anymore. It’s dumb. Only the rest of my family does.) But this attention is annoying. Especially when my parents think it will make me feel good when they say, “Oh, Cat just loves you so much. She does, you know? I can tell.” What difference does it make if you can tell? I can’t tell; for all I know, she could want some food or something.

My younger brother keeps telling me to think out of the box, that I think to shallowly, and my imagination and creativity are constricted by my comfort zone. It would be easy to ignore this if my whole family didn’t agree with him – and if it weren’t entirely correct. But it’s hard to keep up with them in that area. I have nothing to be passionate about; they do. Keeping up with my family is like Keeping Up With The Joneses: Genius Edition. My entire family is extremely successful, save for myself. My dad, a writer; my mom, a prima ballerina-turned-ballet-instructor; my sister Margaret, artist who sells her works at a gallery and she’s only a junior; my older brother Julian, a singing prodigy who is going to a college for music on a full scholarship after he graduates this year; and my younger brother Dominik is two or three (I can never remember) years ahead in math and has known the periodic table by heart since 5th grade and is currently in seventh grade. How can I compete with that? I have no special talents. Except for attracting cats. Yay.

5

I overhear my brother practicing his solo down in the basement before Margaret is scheduled to come in and help me get ready for first Friday. I have my ear pressed against the air vent, listening, observing. He really is good.

After the singing subsides, I hear something else start up. It sounds almost like… rock and roll music. On an old record player. What? Julian likes rock? Since when?

I go downstairs and investigate. When my stealthiness escapes me and I am spotted, Julian beckons me over to this old-looking record player like he wants to show me something; he takes the record off the record player and slips it smoothly back into the envelope-case-thing. He begins taking another record out of this horribly dusty box and brushes the dust off of it while talking.

“You like?” He asks, peering at me through his eyelashes.

“Sure.” It comes out like a question.

“Well, did you even recognize it?” Julian asks.

“Oh…nope,” I don’t even hesitate to admit it, although it did sound familiar. Probably one of those old, old pop songs that my parents used to listen to. “I didn’t know you like rock and roll. I thought you were into the type of songs you sing all the time…” I wondered if he heard my ever-so-quiet reply.

“Oh. Well, yes, I do like those, but just singing them, mostly,” he sighs. “Listen to this and tell me what you think.” Way to change the subject, I think.

An instantly upbeat melody surges into the air and I am already disgusted. No one is this happy. No one sane, anyway. I listen closely, observantly, because that’s what I always do, and hear a sappy love-tune. Lame rhymes and a corny romance. When it’s over, I am horrified to find I have perked up a bit and was tapping along to cymbals and clapping.

“Do you know who that was?” Julian does that eyelash-peering again. Why does he do that? I’ve heard the girls love it when he does it, but I find it a bit weird. Maybe it’s a habit.

“Um,” is all I say.

“Well, what did you think?” I tell him my thoughts.

“Wow…Well, that’s kind of harsh.”

“Why, what do you think of it?” I turn the tables. Ha.

“I actually don’t know,” Julian sighs, “it’s hard to explain, but I just like it.”

“But…it was a mushy love song. Guys don’t like that, right?” I ask in a small voice.

“It’s the Beatles, for Pete’s sake! They are classics! It doesn’t matter if I am a guy or a girl or the two mixed together! It’s music! Jesus!”

“…I’m sorry?” I mutter and make the motions of leaving.

“Wait, Charlotte. Please,” Julian stands and grabs my arm. “I didn’t mean to yell at you. It’s just that…well, you seem so narrow-minded. I feel like your mind only runs on one track and never gets off said track to, y’know, stop and smell the flowers and take in the scenery and whatnot. That your mind keeps chugging along, ignoring the cool things in life. Do you understand?” he stops the eyelash-peering and looks at me fully, “I’m sorry for yelling, but it’s a bit insulting when you don’t try to see things in other people’s perspectives.” I nod, though I don’t understand. What scenery? What out there is good enough to stop and look at when the world is always moving, moving, moving? “Are you sure?” Julian senses my carelessness. Keep a stone-face, I tell myself, stay expressionless.

“Yeah,” I say when I am confident in my poker-face.

“Thanks, Char. I think you’d better see if Mags is ready for you, anyway.” Julian cleans up his rock and roll while I retreat upstairs.

6

Before I even reach the stairs leading up to the bedrooms, Margaret appears next to me with an armful of products and clothing. I groan.

“You don’t have to wear any of this if you don’t want, but I think they would look fab on you.” She explains and drags me up to her room.

Once we are in her room, she cranks up this weird music I think I overheard her describe as “indie” and hums along. She’s got all of her long, milky chocolate brown hair wrapped around big curlers and takes off her school-type clothes (fashionable) and walks around in her undergarments while searching for the perfect out-of-school-type clothes (glamorous). I look away awkwardly and she takes notice.

“Oh! Sorry, I didn’t realize…OK, well I’m not entirely in the nude…” Margaret thinks this is an adequate explanation.

“Well, I’ll just leave until-” I start but am cut off.

“We are sisters, though. Whatever, I’ve found the outfit I wanted anyway.” She slips into what appears to be a little black dress, but it has obviously had her handiwork applied. While it is a little black dress – plain cotton, yet sort of form-fitting with a slight dip at the neckline and thick plain straps – she has sewn on this large, ruffly fabric flower that begins at the left strap as a light pink and expands down the side while turning into a deep red. It’s a gorgeous dress, but my tight CZ will not allow any dress-wearing…or admiring. She pulls out white pumps and sets them aside while pushing sparkly stud earrings into her ears.

“OK, so, I think that you should wear your hair down. It’s very pretty.” Margaret winks.

“No” I am not entirely confident in many things, but I am entirely confident that my hair does not look good down.

“So I must persuade you? So be it. I have this product, Char, and it makes your hair get perfectly curly! And you’ve been blessed with sweet tousle-y curls… So, try it!”

“My hair is nothing but a rat’s nest. Why?” I whine.

“No it’s not! I’ve seen a trace of those curls before you strangle them in a hair-tie every day. Come to the bathroom and I’ll wash your hair in the tub and we can try it out. If it looks lame, I know a few up-dos that you’d look phenomenal with.” She leads me to the tub and I inwardly moan.

She tells me to flip my head over the side of the tub so my hair is underneath the faucet and she turns on the hot water. It’s close to a flaming temperature, but I like it. It distracts me. Margaret brushes out my hair and scrubs in the shampoo. It smells like fake strawberries. Yum. When the suds are dangerously close to stinging my eyes, she rinses it all out and combs some conditioner in my hair that smells like clementines. Fake clementines, of course. She eventually rinses the conditioner out, too, and wraps a towel around my head.

“Squeeze out the water gently and comb it. Gently,” she instructs. I do as I am told and am finally introduced to the Product. It smells alright, I guess.

“OK,” Margaret says excitedly, “all you have to do is pump it once in your hands and rub it around and then scrunch it in to your hair.”

I meagerly ask, “Scrunch?”

“You don’t know what scrunching is? Fine, I’ll do it for you, but if you like the way your hair turns out, you can do it next time, OK?” Margaret does exactly what she said and I discover that scrunching is a squeezing-type motion. My hair actually looks normal for once. Woo. Hoo.

Margaret looks at her phone and gasps, “We’ve only got a half-hour left! I’ve got to blow-dry your hair, it will never dry in time!”

“OK, master.”

“Am I being too bossy? I apologize! I just like getting dressed up. Do you want me to stop? I wouldn’t recommend going out with wet hair though, it’s not very warm outside. Not at all.”

“It’s alright, finish me off,” I use my logic and please her finally.

“Yay!” She squeals and then pulls out the blow-dryer and attaches this massive shower-head-looking thing. When she sees me staring in disbelief at her equipment, she launches into an explanation.

“Char, this is a diffuser! It’s to make curls come out wonderful instead of frizzy and weird after blow-drying, I think. It works wonders! Just watch.” She turns on the blow-dryer, turns it upside-down, grabs a handful of my hair and lightly puts it on the diffuser. She does this all over my head and I start to see what she means.

“Char! Charcharchar! Look at your glamorous hair! Oh, it’s fantastic, now if I add a little shine spray…..voila!

I can’t believe it. I am speechless. What has she created? This is not me. I am not a curly-haired, glamorous being! I am a lonely being. I don’t recognize myself. What will people think, seeing me all different like this? Nevermind that, no one knows who I am. I’m invisible.

“Now, for your outfit! I know you don’t like dressy clothes, so you can just wear some skinny jeans or something and I can loan you this shirt I recently altered, if you’d like.”

“Whatever you say,” I can’t put together an outfit for my life, so I take the easy route.

“Excellent! Put this all on and I’ll leave and come back when you’re ready!”

I can’t really tell what the shirt is until I put it on and Margaret comes back. She is so pleased, I think she will faint or something. If she gets this pleased with just picking out clothes, I wonder what she like when she sells some of her work – in tears?

“Oh, Charlotte, you look so pretty! I love this on you!” I am looking in the mirror and I see that the shirt she paired with the skinny jeans is a light orange, loose top that has an enormous neck hole so that it hangs off my shoulders and shows some of them, too. It has another one of those flower designs, only it is alternating dark and light blue ruffles on mini flowers that flow over my right shoulder and onto my back. There is matching light blue, festive stitching along the hem as well. I smile a bit.

“Don’t you have blue sneakers? Put them on and meet me downstairs, please, I’ll be right down…Unless you’d like to put on some makeup, too?” I shake my head vigorously and find the sneakers.

7

Dominik is in the kitchen helping himself to some leftovers – I assume it’s a make-your-own-dinner night tonight. As soon as I see him I spin around on my heel and begin walking out to avoid the inevitable. But Dominik sees me.

“Lotte, look at you!” Dominik is the only one in my family who calls me “Lotte” (pronounced lot-tee). And I get to call him Nik or Nicky in return. Everyone else calls me “Char” and him “Dom” so I guess we get along the most out of all our siblings… Or he’s just the only one I really talk to.

“Don’t start, Nik, please.”

“No, I meant it in a good way! Why don’t you dress like that more often?” He gets down from his perch on a bar-stool and waltzes over. For a pretty nerdy dude, he has quite a sense of style himself; he’s dressed in jeans rolled at the cuffs and a t-shirt with some design on it.

“Because,” I can’t think of a good answer.

“You know,” Julian materializes from nowhere, “Because is a Beatles song. Quite good, but it doesn’t make much sense to me. You probably wouldn’t like it.” Julian helps himself to Nik’s dinner. “Danke, Dom.”

“Hey!” Nik fights off Julian so I use this temporary distraction as my escape.

“By the way, Char, you do look quite snazzy,” Julian adds as I slip away to upstairs. Why is everyone so nice?

I go upstairs and search for some money and Margaret emerges from the bathroom fully made-up. Of course, her makeup is stellar and her hair is impeccably wavy. “Ready?” She asks.

“Sure.” My standard answer.

8

It’s only about a good three or four blocks to town from the house, so the walk takes about five minutes. This will be the first time I ever see the inside of the gallery in my life…or meet Margaret’s friends. As we near the gallery, I hear music; it seems like it’s coming from everywhere. I hear the loud rumble of the bass drum and shreds of guitar obviously coming from an amplified band, and the gentle plucking of a talented acoustic guitar player and I believe a woodwind instrument – flute perhaps – also. I kind of like it. Kind of.

The gallery is a fairly large, old-fashioned white building compared to the tiny shops lining the streets of town. Since the building is all white, the store-owners next door, who harbor an intense passion for their home sports teams, project the current season’s team’s game on the side of the building, which draws a crowd. A crowd that we had to wade through to get to the gallery.

Tonight, it is a football game that is being projected. We are in the middle of the sea of people when they score a touchdown and the crowd goes wild, with high-fiving and fist-pounding and singing and cheers and strangely enough, dancing. All I could think was: it was just a touchdown, why the big hullabaloo? This is probably why I don’t follow sports.

At last, we finally make it into the gallery. I can still hear the cheering from inside. It’s very open inside – wide open, in fact – and showcases local artists (painters, sketchers, photographers, etc.) while maintaining a small collection of famous art as well in a miniature museum section. Margaret greets her boss or someone and a group of five people spot her from across the room. They seem excited to see her, as they greet her with, “What uuuuuuuuuuuuuuup, Maggie? How’s it goin’?” So these, I assume, are her friends. Great.

9

Char, this is the Clan; Clan, this is Charlotte, my younger sister,” Margaret says this with such dignity, it’s as if I am one of her masterpieces. The “Clan” as she dubbed it, seem like they are all in Julian’s grade or above. A collective, yet, jaunty “hello” greets me, and one particular handsome boy says in a spooky voice, “salutations,” while wiggling his eyebrows. Oh, no, it’s made me crack a smile; I’m smiling! Abort mission! Abort, abort, abort! Then it hits me. This is The Boyfriend.

After waving meekly and smiling at the Clan, I shuffle over to my sister and inquire about The Boyfriend. She seems surprised that I have picked him right out, but I claim it was pretty

obvious since he wiggled his eyebrows. Then I say something I would have never thought I would say, ever: “He looks like a good match for you.” What? Have I just complimented my sister?

“Thanks, Char!” I think I have just made her entire life. She looks admirably over at The Boyfriend. “He’s called Declan. He said he’s straight from Ireland. Ain’t he gorgey?”

I glance at him in time to receive another eyebrow gesture. “Yes. Though I don’t quite understand his eyebrow movements…” Margaret instantly laughs.

“He’s funny.” She sighs. “So how about I let you mingle, and I’ll go try to sell some pieces so we can get some hot chocolate or something?”

It sounds like a terrible idea. Mingling? I’ve never mingled, socialized or networked in my life. The very thought of it terrifies me. I give Margaret a pleading look, hoping it comes across as saying, “Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.”

“What? Oh. Well, here, let me just introduce you to Declan, and he can show you around, but I do have to work. He’s in Julian’s grade, so he’s not anything you’re not used to.”

10

Declan! Char’s kinda shy, so can she stay with you while I try making some sales?” Margaret walks me over to The Boyfriend. He nods with so much enthusiasm that it makes me nervous.

“Yes! Yes, yes, yes. It’s nice to finally meet you, Charlotte,” I notice his Irish accent right away. I am now suspicious of him. With an accent like that, he must have thousands of girls lining up for him. I’m watching him.

I nod, “Hi.”

“You must be a pretty dandy individual; your sis over here speaks of you all the time.” I look at Margaret. What is she saying about me?

“Oh, Charlotte, nothing bad! I’ve gotta go now, though, but I’ll be back in about an hour, OK?” I nod once more. She goes into a storage closet and takes out some of what I conclude is some of her paintings. I see Declan watching her.

“So, Charlotte, what’s good?” He turns his attention to me after a while, and I finally get a good look at him. He is, in fact, as handsome as I had first thought. He hasn’t got the stereotypical red Irish hair, he’s got brown hair surprisingly close to Margaret’s hair color and it’s cut short enough that it’s not on his shoulders but long enough that it can curl a bit and he can run his hands through it. His eyes are crystal and sky-colored. He’s got a bit of stubble, too, around his chin- and side-burn area. I definitely think he’s got the girls lining up. I wonder what made him choose Margaret? I ask him.

“Why do you like Margaret?”

“Well,” Declan inhales deeply and looks at the ceiling for an easy explanation. He doesn’t see one so he looks back at me, grinning. “I…can’t really, erm, say it. It’s hard to explain… It’s like why I’ve chosen to pursue art,” I am looking at him straight in the eyes, but not glaring. This had better be a good answer. I wait for him to finish his sentence. I think he was pausing for effect. “I just like her.” Why is everything so hard for everyone to explain? I ask for a simple explanation and everyone answers, “it’s hard to explain, but I just do.”

“But she isn’t art,” I argue.

“Yes, well, I think she is. She is living art. She is quite good looking, beautiful, if you don’t mind me saying that, but she also lives art, if you catch my drift.”

“Um,” I struggle to understand. I realize he is peering at me through his eyelashes just like Julian. What is it with his generation? I wonder if he copied that habit from Julian.

“Sorry,” He recognizes my struggle. “In simpler terms: I like her. A lot. I like every bit about her. I think she’s the best girl I’ve met. I even think she smells nice. All the time. It’s weird.” He chuckles to himself. This conversation is getting too intimate. Uncomfortable. I stiffly shift on my feet.

“OK! So, Charlotte, what classes are you taking? You’re a freshman, right?”

I mumble, “Honors ones.”

“Very good! I bet you’re an A student.”

“Yeah.” What does he care about this for?

“Yeah, I can tell. You come across as very intelligent. Plus, Margaret tells me that you are.”

“Um, thanks…What else does she tell you about me?” Do I want to know?

“Oh, lots!” he begins counting on his fingers, “That you’re smart, you’re pretty, you’re interesting, you’re shy, that she couldn’t ask for any other sister in the world. She really loves you, Charlotte.”

“Really…” Who is he to tell me this? “Well, do I live up to my description?”

“Why, yes. Yes you do, indeed.” Declan seems pleased with himself, still grinning. His cheeks must hurt.

“I’m interesting? I’m pretty? Since when?” I didn’t mean to say those out loud… I don’t want to hear the answers.

“Yes, you are.”

“What?” I stutter. Was not prepared for that direct answer. Must recover, must recover.

“I said, ‘yeah,’” he says again.

“No, I heard what you said…But why? The only things you know about me are whatever Margaret has shared with you. How do you know I’m interesting?” Forget about the “pretty” compliment, I’ve never been “interesting” before.

“Because,” he starts, “I’ve never met a person like you. You’re interesting because I can’t really read you. I’m pretty good at reading people, but I haven’t exactly figured you out, yet. You’re mysterious.”

What the heck? “Like a mind reader? A psychic?” I inquire.

“No! No, no, no, like, hmm, like a… Well, I can usually determine what a person is like – personality-wise and such – but you are a challenge. I know that you are different from what you are like on the surface. I just don’t know how.”

“Er,” I’m not following this at all. “yeah…”

***

I need a name for this draft, so for any good ones, please post them in a comment!

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