Caroline, You're Never home

I can remember the first time I saw her.

My sister was always a really smart little kid. She always got straight-A’s, was the perfect little daughter you could probably ask for. Because of this, they put her in this Math Algebra contest type thing. They’d ask all the kids these excrementally confusing math questions and they had an entire board where they could figure it out on and prove whatever theorem they were supposed to.

She beat out her school, the county, the state, and then we all went to regional. All of the other smart kids all gathered themselves in a university to prove their worth. I was only here because my parents dragged me. Hanging around with nerds isn’t exactly my thing, as I turned out to be the average one. They put all their eggs in one basket: my sister. And who cared what I ever did. Luckily, that happened to be about nothing, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.

9:05, Monday morning. I knew exactly what I was thinking: What is the point of doing this so early in the morning for? I wake up at 10 AM, and anytime before that, I’m not acknowledging anything you’re saying. So, this is not a very happy time for me.

“Be happy for your sister, Alex.” Mom said, but I was struggling to stay awake, so being happy for Ashley isn’t exactly so high on the priorities. I slumped in my chair in the third row next to my parents. My dad looked at me, knowing that I didn’t want to be here. He mumbled something about walking around. He needed some coffee. So, I got up and walked around.

The university turned out to be as interesting as it sounded: not at all. The only thing that was really intriguing was the Starbucks that was in the cafeteria. That’s probably the only reason people go to this school. Free coffee, and that’s the best part of this entire thing. I made my way back inside, but I saw a lanky girl with dark brown hair that went down to her elbows. She was getting out of a RV with her mother dragging her inside. She looked about my age, but she seemed upset.

I followed her inside, making sure that she didn’t notice me. She was part of the mathematics thing too. Her mother reminded me of Sigourney Weaver, tall and serious. From what I heard of the conversation, her mother was telling her to look nice and smile for the crowd. She’d done this before.

I walked the other direction to where my parents were sitting and kept my eyes on her. Why was she so upset? It really was not my business, but she kept bothering me for the ten, fifteen minutes I sat around.

“I’m going to go check on Ash.” I said to my parents, getting up and walking up to the stage where she stood, happy as can be. She was only eight or nine then, with two dirty blond pigtails. She was the portrait child of adorable. I love her to death, and she’d beat me in a popularity contest any day. Ashley always smiled big when she did, and she quickly hugged me, or technically my legs. My at-random growth spirts made me taller than anyone was expecting me to.

“Hi, Ally-Al.” It was her pet name for me. Where it originated from, I have no idea, but it’s what she called me since she was three.

“Hi, Ash. You nervous?” I asked her, my small smile not as much of a sunshine of happiness, but still nice.

“No way!” It was always her nature to be courageous and fearless, because though she was small in size, she could take anything. “Well, actually, a little.” She muttered.

I crouched down to her size and picked her up. “Well, that’s absolutely normal, I promise. It’s just the butterflies in your stomach saying good luck.”

She laughed. “There aren’t any butterflies in my stomach, Ally-Al.”

“Oh, yes there are. They’re invisible to the naked eye and only appear when you’re about to do something in front of a lot of people. Most usually, when you’re about to win something in front of a lot of people.” I said, repeating a tale I’d made up for her back when she was doing this just for the school.

I put her on my shoulders and I carried her around the stage. That’s where I bumped into her, the girl that had intrigued me so. Correction, I use the term “bumped” lightly. I stopped myself before crashing into her with my sister and me. So, I guess it’s a figurative “bumped”, not the physical “bumped”.

“Agh!” I said, stopping before her.

She stopped, and blushed. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there.” She looked up on my shoulders at my sister. “I didn’t see you either.” She smiled, and it was one of the most genuine smiles I’ve ever seen, besides my sister. You could tell that she really meant it.

“Not a lot of people do.” I replied wit h a smirk. I carefully put my sister down on the ground. She held my hand and smiled at this soft-spoken girl. “Are you in this thing too?”

“Yeah. I’ve been in this for a while.” She looked sad when she said this, but quickly covered it up with a normal, positive look. Look nice and smile for the crowd, like her mother had said, I guess? “I’m Caroline.” She held out her hand.

“Alex.” I shook it. “How old are you?” I said, trying to make conversation.

“I’m fourteen. What about yourself?”

“Same.” So I was right. She was a little shorter than me, standing up to my nose. “Where are you from?”

“North Carolina, how cliché, I know.” She said, smirking.

“Well, I was born in Alexander City, if that makes you feel any better.” We both laughed. But it was true. We were visiting a few of my relatives and my mom just so happened to be pregnant with me at the time and there I was. It was truly coincidence; they’d picked out the name months beforehand. “Ashley, do you want to go back to your spot or do you want to hang around with me longer?” I asked.

“I’ll go back to my spot. And Ally-Al?” Ash said.

“Yeah?” She used the “come here” motion with her fingers, so I crouched down to her level and she whispered in my ear.

“I like her. She’s pretty.” And she ran off.

I stood back up and smirked. “My sister thinks you’re pretty.”

She blushed. “Well, tell her thank you.”

I was about to say something, but her mother came up behind her. “Hello, are you one of the contestants in this contest?” she asked me.

“Um, no, but-”

“Well, then I suggest you leave Caroline alone. She has to practice.” I wanted to argue, but I simply walked off the stage and sat in my seat. I saw the distress on Caroline’s face and knew she wanted to say something, but she didn’t.

After twenty more minutes of waiting around, the event finally started. A tall, skinny, bald man walked up to the microphone and welcomed everyone for coming and thanked them for being here and all of that jazz.

“I would also like to welcome our four-time champion, Caroline Walters, who has won miscellaneous math and science competitions around the country. “ Applause. Caroline looked at her mother, and then smiled at the crowd. She turned away after the man moved on, looking like she’s about to cry. I wanted to help her, or ask her what’s wrong, but you can’t really do that in the middle of an event contest thing.

He went on to introduce everyone else with their names and where they were from. My sister smiled at us and back at Caroline, who stood next to her in front of her own board. The corners of Caroline’s mouth lifted to form a sad smile. Was it because she was going to have to beat her to win this competition? I couldn’t tell.

There would be four rounds. The top ten would move on to the next round, then the top eight, then the top six, then the top four, and then a showdown between the top two. My sister and Caroline found themselves head to head. They said good luck to each other and then the man read a very complex math problem to the two of them.

Caroline and Ash were off, writing numbers and letters across their whiteboards. But just as Caroline was about to finish up, she slowed down, just enough for my sister to solve it before she did. I looked through the crowd for her mother and I could see her steaming mad. But Caroline was smiling as Ashley was declared the winner. My mother and father were rushing up on stage to hug her and everything. I just sat in my seat and smirked at Caroline. She smiled back at me.

As she left the stage, I caught her on the way out. “Caroline, hey.” She stopped as I said her name.

She turned around. “Hey.” She seemed nervous, but I couldn’t figure out why. “Listen, I have to go, but it-” I grabbed her hand before she could leave.

“Caroline, Carolina, why’d you do it?”

She looked down at the floor, and laughed softly. “Alex, did you know that I haven’t been home in ages? I thought I hated the place, the sameness, but when you’ve been in so many places, proving how smart you are to your mother every day, winning her money just to make her happy…” She was still transfixed with the floor, or now, my shoes. They were old red Converse All-Stars that I’d gotten a few years back.

“Caroline…”

“I haven’t lost anything since I’ve started. Ever. Now what will she do with me? Kill me? Ha.” She said, sitting down on the sidewalk. “It’s a comforting thought, really. I could have time to think about it all. I could figure it out. Being smart really isn’t worth it. I should’ve eaten the paint chips at my preschool. Maybe I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in now.”

I sat down next to her. “But if you had, I wouldn’t have met you.”

She closed her eyes. “When I close my eyes, I see my old house. A place like home. We moved out of it after my mom realized how much money I could get her and now we have that stupid RV. ‘So now, we’re never far from home’, as my mother used to say before I caught on to her whole money-making strategy.

“I never asked for this. Never did I say ‘yes, I would like to win countless competitions to win my mother’s love’. But then again, I never said ‘no’ either. I used to think that if I won this, we’d go home. But then there was another one, then another…” She started to cry. I held her close as her teardrops stained my shirt.

“Why don’t you just tell your mother that you don’t want to do this anymore?” I said softly to her.

“Oh right, you can just tell your mom that her income is gone? Yeah, that’ll work.” She said, sniffing.

“If you tell her how you feel, maybe she’ll see it your way.” I said, trying to be of use, but I’ve never been good at getting my point across.

“I just want the chance to be anyone I want to be. Not ‘Caroline: Mathematics Master’ or ‘Caroline: Social Icon’ or ‘Caroline: Beauty Queen’. Though, I’m skeptical any of those titles would come to mind.”

“They come to mind when I think of you.” I said, trying to cheer her up.

“Really?”

“Yes. You’re a very pretty girl, you know. You aren’t your average geek.”

We laughed at that. She just wanted someone to talk to, someone who she could tell her secrets to. She just needed to open to someone, but there wasn’t anyone around who with she felt she could. And for the longest time, we just sat there.

-------------------

The next day, this was headlining the papers “GENIUS CHIILD CAROLINE WALTERS COMMITS SUICIDE”. In it, it says she left a letter explaining her feelings by her mother’s cell phone. The letter was sent to me a few days later, as it was “Caroline’s wish”, according to the letter.

“Dear Mom and Dad,

I’m sorry about all of this. I really am, but at the same time, I’m not. I’m outspoken in either case, but you should know that honestly, you wouldn’t listen to me, even if I was alive right now. I just wanted to go home; instead, we got a RV. I did the competitions; I prayed it would be over soon. I took my bows and won them over for you. I tried hard to win your love, Mom, but I never did, did I? You never seemed to show it. All I wanted was a chance to be my own person, but because of all of this, I can’t. I’m “the genius child” or “mathematics master”. I just don’t want or need this anymore. I really hope you understand. Maybe someday you’ll forgive me.

So long, Mom, and goodbye, Dad.
-Carolina”

I went to the funeral, and incased in concrete, they buried her under the dust and mud by her old house. It was old and worn on now, but I’m sure that it was nice in its day. I looked at her grave. It was titled “CAROLINE WALTERS”. Just Caroline Walters. I laughed softly at the thought. Not a mathematics master, nor a beauty queen. But just Caroline Walters. Only to me would she be anyone else. Only to me would she be the fantastic Caroline Walters that I will never forget.

“You’re finally home.”

To this day, Caroline is never far from my thoughts. I wonder what she could’ve done if they’d just listened to her. I wish I could’ve helped her out of her situation. She cheers me up, reminds me that there’s hope in the world.

Carolina’s always on my mind.





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