could, in fact, do this

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"Elsa, you are late!" pounding up the stairs my mother, only meaning the best, tried to rumple me out of bed. I had been awake, but since I had no incentive to leave bed--school was my enemy--I hadn't bothered to even start my morning chores.

I heard the clucking of the chickens in the tiny backyard through my shuttered window, and the creak of a cart in the narrow street before the house. Shutters were being thrown open across the way, and all around me people were finishing up last minute chores and hurrying off to work or school. I was late, by at least a full halfhour.

My mother threw open my shutters and shoved a piece of buttered bread at me. "Up, now!" was her constant tittering phrase, and it just made me want to curl up more. Was it just me in the house I wondered, or had Louise and Erik gone on to school already, without me? Dad was long gone before the sun itself got up, so I didn't count on that.

I waited until Mom left before rolling out of bed, rushing myself through what was left of the morning, it was 30 minutes before I was standing on the street outside my tall and narrow home. The cobblestones under my soft soled flats felt like freshly baked rolls and a man pushing a cart heaped with mangoes bid me goodday.

I looked back at my yellow house, wishing for the umpteenth time I wouldn't have to go to school, so I wouldn't have to face all my so-called friends and Chad. A gutter from our house dripped onto me, and for the first time I saw the puddles left on our street--it must have rained the previous night. But now it was sunny, cloudless--only to be cancelled out by the shade created by the narrow streets and narrow houses that reached 3 or 4 stories high.

I began walking towards school. Every step felt slower, heavier, worse. I was scared, and so when Lizza jumped out of her doorway after a few blocks I jumped. But we fell into step together, as we did every morning. I wasn't running late at all, it seemed.

"Hey Elsa, are you alright today?" Lizza was dressed to the nines, as usual. Designer jeans and a concert tee that probably cost her a fortune, a carefully slung cardigan half unbuttoned, her perfectly matched sandals, and her flawless hair. Somehow, though I adored Lizza and actually sort of trusted her, she always managed to make me feel almost homeless in my appearance--flyaway brown hair with uneven waves and layers, and whatever clothes I could manage to vaguely match with each other. Today it was a floral print skirt and a soft green shirt with a sailor neckline loose enough to hide myself in.

"Well Lizza, considering school yesterday I'm doing just dandy." Just a hint of sarcasm colored my tone, but she would never notice. She was too busy checking her appearance in a shop window to pay much heed to anything. We had gotten to the small shop area of our neighbor hood, and there were people everywhere, crowding us onto the sidewalk that had just picked up when the street widened a bit.

"Are we going to be late for school?" Lizza asked, but I shook my head. "I'm not sure if I'm going." All Lizza did was look at my funny, then shrug, as if to say--"Well who wouldn't skip after your yesterday?" We continued walking in silence.

We were just a block away from school when Lizza spoke, "You know, Elsa, if you want to talk about it, you can. I know you are going to need every last possible helper in the coming months, to deal with, you know, all of it. And well, I guess since I'm the only one who isn't calling you names, I'll be here for you."

I wrinkled my nose twice at her, and smiled, "Well, gee, thanks Lizza. Are you saying I'm not a dirty whore? This comforts me so much."

"Well I'm not saying you aren't a dirty whore--" I hit her. "Hey! I'm just saying that I know at least a little bit more than everyone else at school. And a hell more than your family does, did you forget about that?" I hadn't, but I didn't say anything, at least, not then.

Standing across the street from school, 2 men on bicycles passed us and waved. I was so sick of everyone being so friendly all the time. "Let's go, I've got to face them sometime," I said to Lizza.

We crossed the street. It was strange being back here, as if I'd been away longer than a day. The kids were staring and I just hoped to god that they knew that this wasn't just my fault. I had tried to say no, I had tried to scream. This wasn't my choice.

I whispered to Lizza "Well, could you at least attempt to stop them from throwing me in the trash can? I'm a bit fragile for that." She nodded and smiled her consent.

We pushed open the doors to the low roofed school building and immediately I felt as if I was being swallowed by some enormous beast with a neverending appetite for messups and losers. Crowds of kids were hurrying to their lockers to grab books for class, or standing and socializing. I had no group now that everyone was shunning me, but Lizza had a group, and with that, duties.

She walked me to my locker, but no further. I was on my own to face my fears. Chad walked down the hallway the exact instant Lizza left me, and I caught my breath. He looked at me, I knew he did, but I did not look at him. Neither one of us made any sort of communication. He had passed, I could breathe. I reminded myself that I could, in fact, do this. I ran to the bathroom to throw up.

~~~

Walking home with Lizza I talked about everything. "And then in the lunch line Haley Waters tried to knock my tray out of my hands, but I just stood there like a rock. It was hilarious to watch her try to do it again and again without realizing that I knew what she was up to." Lizza, like the gracious girl she is, took it all in without comment. Only once did she ask "What about Chad?"

A silence grew between us. But then I spoke, "He knows I'm right, and I will go to all ends to get justice served. I'd like to see him in prison after all he's done. He kept looking at me today, but he didn't saying anything or do anything per se, it was mostly just unspoken hatred."

I couldn't go on for a moment, trying to sum it up into words. "I've got to tell my parents tonight. They deserve to know what is going on." Lizza gasped and grabbed my elbow, stopping me in my tracks. "Are you for real? Do you need me to be there with you? What are you even going to say? 'Hey Mom and Dad, a few months ago I was--'" I cut her off "No, stop. I am just going to explain the whole thing, no frills, but nothing left out either."

"Sometimes, Elsa, I don't understand why you choose the hardest possible route. Do you not see the easy ways out of this?"

"What if the hardest route now is the easiest route for later? I'm trying to think what is best for me and--" I could go no further.

We were at Lizza's house, the sun was yawning down behind her house, and there were only a few people out on the street. I dreaded the walk home, but knew what I must do. So, saying goodbye to Lizza,I clutched my satchel of homework and scuffed my way down the narrow street.

Opening my front door with one hand, I scoped up our paper and mail from the box with the other. Walking straight to the kitchen, I said to Mom "We've got to talk." She looked up, surprised, from the stove. "Are you alright honey? Did something happen at school?"

Thinking to myself, damn right something happened at school, I said, "We need to talk but I think Dad should be here too. And yes, it's serious." I grabbed some cookies and milk, nodded to Mom, and left, heading to my room, it was my private sanctuary, and I needed to be safe.

I set the milk and cookies on the windowstill and just looked out at my street. Narrow, cramped, tall, spindly. I loved it, so full of color and life, but it wouldn't be the same after tonight. Confessions hurt, but I'd never had a secret like this one. My windowboxes were in full bloom, and I leaned out to smell them--divine.

I heard whistling coming from up the empty street. It was Dad, walking home from work. Downing the rest of my milk, I glanced once more at the outside, so sweet, with so many different lives intersecting on just our street, I knew then I could, in fact, do this.





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