Thursday Morning... Day 9 of My Exile
I’m supposed to be in hiding. I’m supposed to behave normally and not draw any attention to myself, either by being too secretive or too forward. Seems simple enough, except the question of how claws at a corner of my thoughts, while the rest of my consciousness is focused on the girl standing before me at her locker.
I think she has awakened my muse.
That part of me has been quiet for a long time, even presumed dead. Its sudden resurrection has me feeling light-headed and short of breath. This sensation is ... dangerous. In a practical way I’ve never experienced before. My life is too complicated right now to add a girlfriend to it. I’m five hundred miles from where anyone I know would expect to find me. I don’t know how long I’ll be here. Therefore, commitment is impossible.
Plus, fighting migraines nearly every day has seriously eroded my romantic drive. I finally feel okay today, though, and the jasmine scent of Mia’s body spray has triggered more pleasant sensations.
I want to draw her portrait.
The light reflects off her dangly earring to shimmer on her creamy cheek. A breeze of someone walking past lifts a strand of her long chestnut-brown hair. The depth in her mahogany eyes makes it almost impossible to look away. When I do, I’m confronted by her Cupid’s bow mouth, painted a delicate shade of salmon. I would capture it all in warm, earthy pastels on eggshell-colored paper… if she’d let me.
Yeah, I’m totally sappy that way.
My ability to notice tiny details is an asset for my art, but a trap for my soul. Mia has put me in emotional shackles already, and I’ve barely said hello. So I stand here, imprisoned by the need to be close to her, trying settle my raging hormones enough to speak.
I can’t just ask if I can do her portrait. The question would practically scream, stalker.
At my smooth, “Hey,” Mia turns a slightly astonished look my way and then rolls her eyes, like she anticipates the next words out of my mouth will be the cheesiest pick-up line ever. She shifts her books on her arm, probably so I can’t see the numbers she’s dialing in her locker combination.
“I’m sorry. Do I know you?” she says.
She does. And these words are code for go away. But I’m not giving up that easily.
“Noah Dickerson. World history class.”
“I know you’re in my class.” She sighs and flicks her wrist, like I’ve forced her to start over with her combination. “Look, I don’t mean to be rude, but I just broke up with someone, so I’d like to be alone for a while.”
Which is also code for get-lost. It stings a bit.
A weedy looking guy arrives, casting his shadow over me, staring but not speaking. I raise my eyebrows in question, but his downward gaze doesn’t waver. It’s like he’s looking through me rather than at me. To the locker behind me.
Right. I’m in this guy’s way, intruding on his rightful space while I’m trying to move into Mia’s realm. I step aside, so I’m standing behind Mia rather than next to her. Not advantageous. And I’m not sure she’s actually waiting for me to respond to what she said.
“I understand,” I say. “I mean, I get it. And I’m not trying to be pushy. But I’m new here and don’t really know anyone yet. How about we sit together at lunch? Just friends?”
Okay, that sounded a little desperate.
Come on, girl, give me a break here.
With her hand on her door latch, she pivots slightly to look at me. “I saw you sitting with the manga fans yesterday.”
So she has noticed me?
However, the hint of judgment in her voice suggests a critical detail. She’s Asian. The group of people I’ve landed with my first week in this school are obsessed with Japanese comics. Maybe she has been the target of guys who fantasize about having an Asian girlfriend.
Well, that’s not me.
Okay, it could be me, but I’m open to correction.
At this point, though, I doubt that it would be very helpful to tell her that my personal aesthetic runs toward American superhero comics rather than Japanese serials.
“Okay, Noah,” she says, casting an uncomfortable glance at the beanpole banging around in his locker beside her. “You’re new, so let me give you a bit of advice. Those manga kids? They’re not as harmless as they might seem.”
Wow. Does she hold me guilty by association? Maybe it’s time to cut my losses with this girl.
Mia opens her locker, and a folded piece of paper falls out. The guy at the next locker kicks it away with his size fourteens. I bend down and grab it. As I hand the paper over, Mia gives me a look like I’ve just done the dumbest thing ever.
“Let me guess,” she says. “You wrote this?”
I have never, ever written a girl a note and put it in her locker. Only socially awkward or hopelessly smitten guys do that.
“No-o-o,” I say, letting my offense roll off my tongue.
“Hmm.” She unfolds the note and reads it, tilting her head like she’s fixing to nail me with her suspicions. But her face goes slack, her confidence visibly sliding away. “What-what is this?”
She inches back, her eyes ballooning and still fixed on the note. The towering elf casts a casual look down at her and slams his locker door. She jumps at the sound and nearly stumbles. I reach out to assist her, but she skitters away from me too.
“You didn’t write this?” Her tone rises, like she’s actually worried I’ll say no.
“I promise you, I did not.” I take the note from her trembling hands and read it.
LIES BROUGHT ONE TO SHAME
TRUTH IS A DANGEROUS THING
IF IT KNOWS YOUR NAME
I expected a love note, not some kind of tortured haiku printed in cliché Comic Sans font. I scowl and look up at Mia. “What does it mean?”
She touches a cross pendant hanging just beneath her elegant neck. Her face has blanched to the color of putty. She’s scared. Of something besides me.
I scan the note again, looking for some meaning to pop out. My sister, Naomi, who writes amazing poetry, might be able to interpret this thing better than I can.
“I get that lying brings shame,” I say, “but why is truth dangerous? Maybe lying is easier than telling the truth?”
Mia’s lips tremble. Whatever this poem means, it’s not philosophical for her. It’s personal and disturbing.
The period bell rings over our heads. That sound stabs my brain, calling forth a familiar pain behind my right eye. I wince against it, wanting to cover my ears like a child. When I look up, Mia is gone. I catch a glimpse of her long hair swinging back and forth as she escapes down the long hallway.
I don’t go after her. Maybe she needs a friend right now, but the go-away signs she threw at me are still fresh. I might be a Romeo, but I’m not that much of a hero. Or an idiot. Plus, I have my own problem. The sudden headache isn’t fading fast enough.
I walk slowly to my next class, breathing deeply to send extra oxygen to my bruised brain cells. My teachers all know about my condition. At least, they know the lie my mother told the administration people when I registered at this school. An accident on my skateboard. A concussion and stitches to close the gash near the hairline on my forehead. The school nurse has some of my prescription medication to give me if I need it. But I don’t want it. I don’t like how it makes me feel dull and sluggish.
My seat is near the back of the classroom, where I can lay my head down if necessary. But as I settle in, I realize I still have Mia’s note in my hand.
Lies brought one to shame. Who is the one? And if truth knows your name, is that referring to Mia or to the random reader? Could the truth refer to a secret? Does Mia know a secret, or does someone know one about her?
Could this note be some kind of threat?
Maybe I won’t be able to figure out the meaning of the poem, but I could find out who left it in Mia’s locker. At least then she’d know it wasn’t me. Maybe I can even break through her resistance, by proving to her that I’m not a creeper.
What I’ll do when I find the author, I’ll decide later. Hopefully it won’t involve yelling or pain. Because I sure don’t need any more of that in my life.