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When I'm Gone; Chapter 12

Chapter 12-August 12, 2001 (Claire)


“No way,” Alex exclaimed looking at the black walls in my classroom. He flicked his gaze back down to the small object in my hand. I laughed and nodded.

“Yep.” I tossed the yellow balloon in my hand. I was careful as not to pop it. Alex glanced at me, dumbstruck.

“I don’t know,” he started doubtfully. I cut my eyes at him and stuck out my tongue.

“Do you want to go first? or shall I?” I interrupted him. He shook his head.

“Um, you can,” he said and took a few steps back, away from me and the wall. I laughed again; that time, making me sound like an evil prowess.

I gripped the balloon in my hand and took aim. Forcing myself to let go, I threw the balloon with all of my strength and grinned. The balloon popped as it hit the wall, splattering the black with a bright neon streak. I scooped up another balloon, that one being blue. I tossed it a little higher than the last one and heard the satisfying pop as it hit the wall. Electric blue spotted the wall and a few drops fell onto my arms, making it look like I had a weird case of the chicken pox.

“That is so cool!” Alex reached down and picked up a green balloon. “So, they color-code with the paint inside them?”

I nodded. “It’s that simple.”

“Hm. I wanna try,” he stated and and threw the balloon and the wall. Neon green paint stained the spot where the balloon hit. Drops of paint dripped down the wall, blending in with the other colors. Alex looked at me, excitement written all over his face. “Are they all neon colors?”

“Pretty much,” I explained and picked up two more balloons. “They stand out more on the black background rather than other colors.”

“Oh, yeah,” he muttered and cleared his throat.

“Just try and leave some black visible. It’ll look better that way,” I told him.

“Okay,” he laughed. “This is going to be awesome.”


He hurled another balloon and his laughter increased in volume.

“I know, right?” I murmured and ran a hand through my tousled hair, probably leaving blue and yellow spots in the strands.

For the next hour, we continued to throw balloons at the walls. The dark, menacing black had turned bright and punk-looking. In the end, we were left with a leftover bucket of balloons and a gigantic mess.

“What now?” Alex questioned and laid a hand on my shoulder. I shrugged and surveyed the room once more.

“I guess we should start to clean up,” I suggested. He nodded thoughtfully and picked up the corner of a tarp on the floor. He gestured to the other end and I shuffled over there.

Slowly, we started to fold up the tarps and then stacked them on top of one another in the supply closet. As we were picking up the last tarp, I heard a small, distant cough. Thinking it was Alex, I continued to fold the edges. The cough sounded again and I noticed that it was to soft and light to be Alex’s.

“Claire,” Alex muttered and tugged on my arm. I looked up, expecting to see the principal, but instead, Lauren stood in the doorway, a small package in her hands. Her eyes found mine and a shy smile lit up her face.

“Hi, Claire,” she called out and waved. I managed a small wave back.

“Hey,” I said and stood up, wiping my dusty hands on my paint-splattered jeans. Lauren swept her gaze over my walls and her darkened eyes lit up with surprise. She let out a twinkling sort of laugh and I raised my eyebrows in confusion.

As she looked around my room, I took the chance to look at her appearance. She looked more proffesional than a few days ago. She wore a pair of dark wash jeans tucked into a pair of gorgeous brown boots that I immeditely wanted. Her top was a slouchy, blue sweatshirt over a white tank top. Her hair was straightened, and she wore a white flower headband that stood out from the bright red. She opened her mouth but I didn’t hear her at first.

“I’m sorry,” I apologized. “What?”

“I said that I love what you did to your walls,” she cooed. “It’s so cool and looks like something a teenager would do.”

“That was kinda the point,” I stated. Blood pooled in her cheeks and she opened her mouth to apologize. I put up my hand. “It’s okay.”

“Oh,” she murmured and glanced at Alex. He smiled warmly and she grinned back.

I flicked my gaze to the package in Lauren’s hands. It was long and flat, wrapped with shiny, navy blue paper. A wide yellow bow was tied to perfection at the top right-hand corner. A small card was attatched to the gift but I was too far away to read it.

That looks kind of like her, I thought to myself. She looks rich and she wraps her gifts like they’re rich too. Usually, I just throw it in a bag and be done with it.

Lauren noticed my stare and held it out to me. She laughed again when she saw my expression. “I meant to give this to you a few days ago, but I forgot after our little disagreement yesterday. So, I brought it today.”

Disagreement? I shouted silently. You were close to calling me some unmentionable names. And you call that a disagreement? Wow, you have a skewed version of life.

However, I took it in my hands, surprised at the light weight of the gift. Sighing, I held up the card and looked at it. Gorgeous, caligraphy letters exclaimed:

Welcome to the family!

Cute, I grimaced and laughed silently. Suddenly, I noticed Lauren watching my every move.

“Do you want me to open it here?” I wondered aloud. Startled, she glanced at my face.

“You don’t have to, if you don’t want to,” she exclaimed, looking sheepish. I shrugged lightly and placed the gift on the table closet to us.

I slid a finger underneath the wrappings and pulled it off in one swipe. Lauren and Alex watched me, impressed at the feat I had just acconplished. Underneath the wrapping paper was a long white box. A box that would usually hold some type of clothing. I picked the top off and was greeted by a swarm of black tissue paper. I threw it to the side and picked up the garment that laid in wait underneath them.

“Oh my-”

In my hands, was the beautiful art smock. It was a navy blue with pockets positioned all over the place. I slid it over my neck and marveled at the way it fit my body perfectly. I glanced down and noticed that on the center of the chest, more caligraphy letters stated my name.

Ms. Barnes

“Do you like it?” Lauren’s voice brough me out of my trance and I looked up at her.

“Like it?” I asked. “No.”

“Oh, I’m-” She took a step back and cast her eyes to her boots.

“I absolutely love it,” I gushed. She looked back up, surprised. I grinned and took the smock off. “I’ve been looking for something like that, but I could never find one that I really liked. This one is perfect.”

“Oh, thanks,” she mumbled under her breath.

“Did you do it yourself?” I wondered.

“Um, yeah, kinda,” she admitted. “I wrote the caligraphy, but I found somebody to embroider it onto the smock.”

“That’s so cool,” I awed. “Thank you so much.”

“No problem. It was my pleasure,” she said and gave me another shy smile. I had to smile back and Alex laughed.

“I’m going to put this on a hook on the wall,” he told us and went off in search for one. I bit my lip and glanced down.

“I feel really guilty now, since I didn’t get you something,” I confessed to Lauren. She giggled and touched my shoulder tentatively.

“You don’t have to get me anything,” she said. “I just got this as a welcome present for you.”

“Well, I’m still going to get you something. Would you like a sign for the door to your classroom?” I suggested. Her eyes brightened and she nodded.

“You would do that for me?” she inquired. I nodded and smiled slightly.

Suddenly, her arms were around me and she was giving me a hug. I felt my posture stiffen and I kept my arms where they were; right by my sides. I don’t think she noticed my tense body, because she let go and smiled up at me.

“Thanks, so much,” she exclaimed. “I would really like that.”

“Well, what should I use as your last name since you are getting married?” I questioned.

“Jeff’s last name is Richards, so you could put ‘Mrs. Richards’,” she proposed. I nodded thoughtfully.

“Okay, I will get right to work on it,” I said. Lauren turned to leave, but looked at me when she got to the door.

“Thanks again,” she said softly.

“Well, thanks for the smock,” I replied and watched as she turned the corner and left.

“Wow, you really are breaking out of your shell,” Alex muttered as he came up behind me. I jumped at his voice and turned towards him.

“No,” I answered defensively, “I’m not. I’m just trying to be nice since she got me a gift. It’s not like I really want to make this sign. It’s the only thing I could think of off the top of my head. God, just leave me alone.”

Alex laughed. “Now there’s the Claire I know and love.”

“The Claire you know and love is going to smack you upside the head if you don’t shut up,” I warned. Laughing, Alex walked to the door.

“I have to leave anyway. I need to go get supplies for school.” He winked at me and left.

“What a weirdo,” I laughed to myself and opened the supply closet. I grabbed an eleven by thirteen canvas and set it out on a table. Next, I toted my basket of paints and set them next to the canvas. I placed my brushes on the side along with a cup of water and a few paper towels.

As I started to slowly paint the canvas, I heard footsteps by the door. I paid no attention to them, concentrating only on the thick white streaks of paint gliding across the canvas. It wasn’t until I heard the creak of my door opening, that I actually looked up.



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