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Chez's World 2
“Chez, here,” Mr. Andrews hands a pair of earphones to Chez. She snatches them and sticks the ear buds into her ears, balling her fists around the cord. It is connected to a fat white iPod in the teacher’s hands. He fiddles with it for a second and then offers it to Chez.
She takes it and slides it into her pocket. She bounces up and down for a few seconds to a song only she can hear through the headphones.
Risa looks at the teacher questioningly, “What’s that for?”
Mr. Andrew smiles at her, “Chez seems to be in a zone when we play one particular song for her on a loop.”
“‘Putting on the Ritz’ by Fred Astaire,” he grins.
Risa gasps and then laughs, “Isn’t he that guy that tap dances?”
Mr. Andrews nods, watching Chez bounce around the room. “She’ll dance around for the first time it plays, then she will get to work.” He starts setting up an easel and blank canvas, setting a pallet of paints on the table next to it.
He looks to Risa, “Did you have art in your last school?”
“No,” she admits.
“Well then,” he grabs her a piece of paper, “let’s get you started on something simple then. This is what we did a few weeks ago,” he points to a pencil sketch of a sphere that has been shaded to look as if a light shines on it from the upper right hand corner. “Not too complicated,” he muses. “Just judge how much shade you need, you can use the ebony pencil for the really dark stuff… blend it with a napkin… think you can handle that?”
Risa nods and smiles, “Yes Sir.”
He smiles back. “Okay then, get to it.”
Risa sits down at the table where Chez’s paint rests. She starts a rough sketch of a sphere, letting herself get carried away with the project. Until Chez comes back to the canvas. Risa pauses and stares, curious to see the girl at work.
Chez slides her hands over the canvas for a few seconds. Once she has felt the entire thing, she snatches a thick paint brush from the table and dips it into green paint. She slides it through the black as well and then slashes a line across the canvas. The black and green run together in the most interesting way. Chez begins making seemingly random arcs across the canvas until it is entirely filled with the black and green. Chez sets the brush down and begins pacing the floor, wringing her hands together as her lips follow the words to her song.
Risa tries to draw more of her sphere, but her eyes glide back to Chez as she approaches the easel once more. She grabs a different paint brush, mixing white and a tiny dab of black, making a very light grey. She dips the small brush in the new color and begins to explicitly paint arcs and lines all over the green and black. She switches to a bright vibrant red, making few marks, and then mixes red and black, making a dark, almost brown color. She puts it on the painting and then creates a golden color, dabbing it in choice places. Risa watches with unfaltering attention as Chez creates a beautiful and frightening scene on the canvas. When she finishes, she backs up to the wall and sits down, hugging her knees to her chest, gazing out the window on the far side of the room.
Risa stands and moves to look at the painting full on. She blinks several times, expecting the picture to fade away as her eyes focus. But it does not. Mr. Andrews joins her to admire the painting.
“Especially dark today,” he observes. “She must be in a terrible mood.”
“How can you tell?” Risa looks over her shoulder at Chez, who is now tying her shoelaces together just to untie them and do it again.
Mr. Andrews points at the painting. “I don’t see much happiness in this picture. Just pain and fear.”
Risa understands exactly what he is saying. The painting is of an angel with a broken wing, slumped against the wall of a well, the water sloshes up around her waist and she gazes up at a light that seems like it is miles away at the opening of the well. Tears travel down her cheeks and blood stains her white dress and feathery wings.
“It’s so beautiful,” Risa whispers. “I don’t know how she can create something so beautiful and detailed in just over an hour! It’s impossible!”
Mr. Andrews smiles through his mustache, “Welcome to Chez’s world.”
“Chez, please do not use my markers,” Mrs. Hill sighs.
Chez places the markers back on the white board. She frowns intently and then rests her forehead against the cool board. Risa watches her from her desk.
“Welcome to study hall,” a black haired boy says to her, leaning over, offering a hand.
She takes it timidly, “Thank you.”
“My name’s Jackson. You’re Risa?”
She nods, blushing.
“Cool,” he looks over at Chez. “Don’t worry about her. She’s always this way after art class. A little mellow. She’ll snap out of it. Watch.” He stands up and shouts, “CHEZZY, CHEZZY, CHEZZY!”
Chez leaps away from the white board and lets out a high pitched giggle as she runs to Jackson and throws herself into his arms, sending him to the ground. She rolls off of him and he sits up to pat her stomach. She shakes her arms and legs.
“See?” Jackson smiles up at Risa.
She giggles, “You act like she is a puppy.”
He grins, “Nah, dogs talk less.”
“Backson, Jackson, Flo-Flackson,” Chez says, eyebrows furrowing. “You still owe me three dollars and a beef jerky stick.”
He sighs and rolls his eyes, “I know. You bring it up every time you see me.”
She looks at Risa, “Lisa, Risa, Leaning Tower of Pisa. She loves the way I wage war.”
Risa looks questioningly at Jackson.
“For some reason she thinks ‘painting’ is waging war somehow. Don’t ask me,” he shrugs.
“The angel in her painting sure looks like it went through war,” Risa admits.
“She did,” Chez says quietly.
“So why do you consider painting ‘waging war’?” Risa asks.
Chez lifts her shoulders in a dainty shrug, “Why do they call it painting?”
Risa doesn’t have an answer to that.
“She calls it that because she’s a freaking retard,” a boy turns around in his desk and scowls at Chez. “She just wants attention. She has to be different from other people. She’s just a tard.”
“Say that again Tyler and I’ll break open your skull,” Jackson says through clenched teeth. “Don’t you dare speak about Chez like that. You don’t know anything.”
The boy named Tyler snorts, “Just ‘cause she’s your little girlfriend. Admit it. There’s something wrong inside her head. Why else does she act like a freak?”
“She doesn’t act like a freak,” Risa argues quietly. “She’s just… unique.”
“She’s an idiot! Half the time she just looks around like she doesn’t know what the hell is going on. She’s special ed. and you all know it.”
“Says the senior that can’t pass freshman Algebra,” Chez’s voice sounds out.
All three look at her. Her eyes are clear and focused as she examines a fingernail dully. “With your high school GPA, do you really believe you are in any position to be calling someone a retard, Tyler?” Her eyes flick up at him. “You sure have a lot of bark for a boy that still gets love notes from his mother in his sack lunch every day. Aren’t Momma’s boys supposed to be sensitive? You seem to be overcompensating for something.”
Risa chokes on a laugh, covering her mouth with her hands. Jackson stifles a grin, trying to look furious. Chez climbs to her feet and flicks her black hair in annoyance. “And haven’t you heard? The politically correct term is ‘mentally challenged’. Or does that contain too many syllables for your fat tongue to handle?”
Tyler glares at her, “Screw you.” He stands and goes to the teacher’s desk and asks to be excused to the bathroom.
Jackson waits until he is out of the room to whirl around and give Chez a high five.
“Nice!” he shouts.
“Mr. Thomas!” Mrs. Hill snaps.
“Sorry,” he says. Then he turns back to Chez, “Chez, you are the bomb.”
“Tick, tick, tick, BOOM!” Chez grins, flashing her hands at him.
He swoops her up in a giant hug. Chez laughs and wraps her arms around his neck as he nuzzles her throat with his nose.
“You are just the most awesome person in the world!” He says into her collarbone as she giggles and hugs him.
Risa smiles, but the smile disappears when she notices Ryker standing by Mrs. Hill’s desk. He holds a pink slip of paper in both of his hands as he stares at Chez and Jackson. He does not have a soft smile on his face like he did all throughout lunch. Instead, his eyes are dead, his lips are set in a hard line, his eyebrows are furrowed. He watches the two for a few seconds before turning to Mrs. Hill and handing her the note. Then he turns and walks from the room.
Jackson lets Chez slide to the ground, following Ryker with his eyes. When the door behind him closes, Jackson turns back to Chez and grins again.
“Risa?” the teacher calls. She holds up the pink note, “You are wanted in the counselor’s office.”
Risa takes the note and heads towards the door. She throws a look back at Chez. She seems unaware that Ryker was just in the room. Risa thinks to herself about the relationship between Jackson and the kind boy.
Risa walks to the counselor’s office, but she is speaking to another student when she arrives. Ryker is in the office, sitting behind a desk, eyes on a book opened in front of him. When Risa enters, he lifts his head and smiles at her.
“Mrs. Hyatt will be right with you,” he informs her in his soft voice.
Risa sits down in a chair next to the wall and examines Ryker. He places a bookmark in his book and closes it. He is quite handsome. His eyes are dark blue. He has caramel colored hair that matches a cleanly trimmed Van Dyke styled goatee. Risa has seen few people that can pull off that kind of facial hair. Ryker is one of them. When he smiles, laugh lines around his eyes and mouth are revealed.
“Am I in trouble?” Risa asks.
Ryker shakes his head, “Mrs. Hyatt likes to meet with the new students after their first day at school to see how they are settling in. She would’ve called you later in the hour, but since you have study hall, she figured she could get it out of the way now so you don’t have to stay after the bell.”
“Oh,” Risa purses her lips. Curiosity burns inside her. She wants to ask about Jackson and why Ryker had looked at him that way when he brought the note. “So,” she looks around the room casually. “You are a counselor’s aide. Neat.”
“Yeah,” he replies, folding his large hands on the desk. “It’s an easy class. I just have to run notes every once in a while. That’s pretty much it.”
“Cool,” Risa nods slowly. “So… Do you know a kid named Tyler?”
Ryker sits back in his swivel chair, “I do,” he replies calmly.
“He sure seems to hate Chez,” Risa observes.
He nods, “Almost every single day he has something to say about her. It…” he shakes his head, gritting his teeth and looking down at the desk.
When he doesn’t continue, Risa goes on, “It’s okay. Jackson was up in arms to defend her.”
Ryker jerks his head away from Risa to stare at the wall. A vein in his forehead bulges and Risa can tell he is trying hard to contain his anger.
“Something tells me you don’t like Jackson very much,” she remarks.
Ryker closes his eyes for a few seconds and then lets out a sigh. He turns back to Risa and smiles sheepishly. “I guess I’m pretty easy to read eh?” She smiles and nods. He runs a hand through his hair, making it stand up at odd angles. “Jackson and I have never gotten along.”
“Why not?” Risa asks, leaning forward. “He seems awfully nice. He and Chez seem to get along great. Did he do something to you or something?”
Ryker shakes his head, smiling, “No, he just… maybe we are just too alike.”
“What do you mean?” Risa narrows her eyes.
He sighs again, “Opposites attract right? Ever try pushing two positive poles of a magnet together? They repel. That’s me and Jackson. We have too much in common.”
Risa frowns, “That doesn’t make much sense. Friends are supposed to have a lot in common. That way you can both enjoy doing the same things. Why be friends if you both like completely different stuff? One or the other would always be miserable when doing activities!”
Ryker chuckles, “Perhaps.”
The student Mrs. Hyatt was talking to leaves her office and Mrs. Hyatt comes out to smile at Risa.
“Come on in!”
Disappointed to abandon her conversation with Ryker, she grudgingly stands and follows Mrs. Hyatt into her office to talk all about her first day.
“So Risa seems nice,” Jackson says to Chez.
Chez nods, “She does.”
“Asks a lot of questions.”
She shrugs, “I guess.”
“What else has she asked you?”
Chez looks at him, “I dunno. What classes we have together? Why I listen to music in Art. Stuff.”
“Has she asked you about your friends?”
Chez furrows her brow, “No, why?”
“If she asked you about me, what would you say?”
“Asked what about you?” Chez is becoming utterly confused.
He leans forward, “You know… okay so what would you say if she said, ‘So, you and Jackson seem close…’”
Chez smiles, “I would say, ‘Yep, we have been friends for a long time’. This is easy. Give me another.”
Jackson smiles, “What if she said, ‘How long have you been friends?’”
“I would say, ‘Since we were in junior high school.’ These questions are simple.”
“What would you tell her if she asked, ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’”
Chez cocks an eyebrow, puzzled. “I would say, ‘No I don’t have a boyfriend.’ That’s a strange question. Do you think she’d actually ask that?”
Jackson sits back in his desk, “She might.” Chez studies his morose expression, wondering what has come over him.
Jackson scrutinizes Chez’s face. She gives nothing away as to what she is feeling, unless she is truly that perplexed. He bites his bottom lip and then questions, “What are you doing after school today?”
She twists her face up in thought, “I think… going to the park? I am unsure. Tanya and Charlene mentioned something of the sort this morning at breakfast, but I…” she trails off.
She doesn’t need to finish. Jackson knows what she means. Chez’s attention span is about as expansive as Tyler’s knowledge of freshman Algebra.
“Sounds fun,” he muses.
“Want to come?” she smiles brightly.
He grins, “Have I ever said ‘no’ to that smile?”
She shrugs, giggling, “I can’t recall.”
“Well that’s because I haven’t,” he replies. “I would love to g—” he freezes when he recognizes the expression on Chez’s face. Her eyes stare straight through him, the pupils completely envelope the iris, she does not blink, she does not breathe.
“Mrs. Hill!” Jackson leaps to his feet, grabbing Chez’s arms and dragging her with him. She goes without complaint, but suddenly begins panting quickly, nostrils flaring. Jackson pulls her across the room.
Mrs. Hill is on her feet and already opening the door. Jackson yanks Chez from the room just as the screams begin. She covers her mouth with her hands, squeezing her eyes shut as her strangled cries try to burst from her lungs. Tears slide down her cheeks and she opens her eyes wide. Jackson is running now, pulling her down the halls towards the counselor’s office. Chez runs with him, desperately trying to contain her cries. She yanks away from Jackson and falls to her knees to bring both of her fists down on the ground with surprising force. Jackson grabs her up again and continues on to the counselor’s office.
“Come on Chez! Please!” he begs. “We are almost there!”
He pulls her down into the foyer and they run straight to the office. Chez lets out a cry of despair and bursts through the door. Risa and Mrs. Hyatt, hearing the sound come rushing out.
“Ryker!” Jackson shouts.
Chez grabs the chair Risa sat in just minutes earlier and throws it over, yelling incoherently. Ryker leaps over his desk and throws an arm around her waist, hauling her to him. She throws her arms around his neck, letting out one more cry before her legs give out. She and Ryker sink to their knees. He holds her close to him, stroking her back and murmuring things in her ear. Chez squeezes her eyes shut. She makes fists in his shirt at the back of his shoulders over and over again. Release, squeeze, release, squeeze. Slowly, she calms. Her hands go limp, and she seems to doze off in Ryker’s arms.
Risa’s heart pounds thunderously in her chest. “What…” she begins. “What happened?”
Mrs. Hyatt pats her shoulder, “It’s alright Risa. This… this happens quite often.”
Jackson clutches his hair, a wild look on his face. He paces a little bit before turning on his heel and stomping from the room. Ryker watches him. When he is gone, Ryker holds Chez closer and strokes the back of her head. Risa stares at them. What is with this place?