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The Real You
High school was said to be the fun times of everyone’s lives. A time to hang out with friends, skip on homework, and live life freely, but Alice knew what really happened here. There were fake friends, backstabbers, images, popularity ranks, failing grades, and so much more. She promised herself she would never enter into that disgusting pile of unoriginality. Being herself was all she wanted and all she promised to stay true to. Throughout high school, now in the junior year, she’d kept that promise. At least, for the most part, she had. She’d developed a habit of worrying about her appearance the start of her junior year, though she didn’t exactly know why. She felt herself laughing at lame jokes that weren’t funny, so as to receive at least a glance from someone. It was a bit worrisome to her, to be honest. However, she took pride in the fact she hadn’t become completely fake, an appearance some girls had developed their first year in high school. Let’s just say she was an observer, someone behind the scenes.
She’d established categories for the students who attended her school, the leaders, the followers, and the individuals. She would personally put herself into the individual category, acknowledged the outcast she was, but it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. Being an outcast was nice, and as she looked around each her classrooms, she would find a smile adorning her face at the knowledge she was living her life how she wanted. She didn’t waste time at parties or with friends at the top of the social ladder. Instead, she would quietly finish her homework at the end of the school day, in order to make time for what really mattered to her.
She was currently in that exact situation, a pencil poised just above her math homework as her homeroom chattered around her. Her music droned out most of their voices, but with the shrill of some of the girls’ voices, they sometimes slipped through. It had been a hard day, filled with homework and long rants by some of her teachers. It was no time for her to slack off if she wanted time after school, and yet, she paused to look up at her classmates. There were small groups of friends spread throughout the room, and her eyes locked on the group that a uniquely shrill voice came from. She watched as one of the girls, Rebecca, swished her brown hair, a dye she had put in over the summer. Her face was flawless, but only a hint of makeup was seen on her face. Alice found these girls to be especially nasty, and she avoided their “kind” smiles and gossiping selves.
“You got my notebook! Oh, thank you! I love you!” she heard Rebecca's friend, Sam, exclaim. She happily took her notebook before she flashed a smile at her friend. Alice sighed and returned to her homework. That simple phrase that slipped through their lips annoyed her. Why did they think so lowly of such a deep phrase? Weddings, serious couples, family; those were the places that phrase was meant for. Alice gritted her teeth as another girl repeated the phrase, and turned up her music. How shallow could these girls be?
After school was where the real fun started. While the students around her talked about other’s houses, their various practices, and other activities, Alice would quickly pack up her things before she hopped in her car, driving to her favorite spot. The only place society didn’t get to her, where she could smile without criticism, laugh without a weird glance. The small stream had been here since forever, and Alice sat in the damp grass before she opened her backpack and took out the rest of her homework. She loved this place because it was quiet, and each day she stayed here until the sun was low, a sign she should get home. The next day was different. Everything was different from what was before, but Alice didn’t know that. The only thing she knew was the freedom of her secret place, the pressure of society, and the hope within her that somehow, someone authentic would break society’s standards.
“Hey, Alice!” a voice yelled, and Alice looked up from her sandwich only to have her friend’s stare directed at her. “Have you seen the new movie that came out last Saturday?” she asked, and Alice stopped chewing to think before shaking her head from side to side.
Now, Alice’s friends were a creative bunch. All interested in different activities, filled with different opinions, it was a wonder they were all friends. Alice knew, of course, she knew, it was because they were themselves. She always knew the independent students by how they acted. With so many people in the world who tried to impress others, it wasn’t hard for Alice to notice the odd ones out, the few authentic people.
“What?” her friend yelled, and Alice gave a small apologetic smile. To be honest, she didn’t like this friend very much. She’d known her since middle school, remembered how independent and sassy she was. As she began high school though, they both had taken different paths. She’d hung out with the more popular, partying kids, and wasted her time on social media with no regard to her homework. Alice had stayed the same as she had always been, and was still steady on that path. She’d only begun being friends with her again because of a mutual friend, so they had no choice. In the end, it was the way her voice was too loud, how she was friends with people she didn’t need to be that Alice knew they wouldn’t ever become truly close again.
After lunch was homeroom, and of course, Alice braced herself for the loud, horribly chatty students that awaited her, but strangely, her homeroom quietly sat in their seats. Alice slowly walked to her seat in the back of the room as confusion filled her eyes.
“Alright, this is the new student I talked to you all about yesterday,” Alice’s homeroom teacher said as he walked through the door with a student in tow. “Please introduce yourself to the class.”
Alice’s eyes switched from her teacher’s face to the student next to him. Average height, average looks, the only thing that seemed special were his sparkling brown eyes. The other students were glowing with anticipation as to what he was like, but Alice was filled with something peculiar, interest. He introduced himself with a deep voice, explained in only a few sentences that he moved schools because of his parents, and concluded with his hopes to get along with everyone. While he spoke, Alice focused on the way he stood still, accompanied by a calm aura that surrounded him.
He was different, she could tell by the way he calmly sat at a desk, the way he gave a small smile at the male student asking him questions, but most of all, she could tell by his absence of words. There were no jokes, no frantic eyes who searched for approval, only silence. He glanced over to her, the lone desk away from the students that cluttered around him, and she let their eyes lock for as long as he wanted. She searched, he stared, and with this short exchange she knew right then and there, he was real.
The first time they’d talked, it was a small exchange. He’d wanted a pencil, she wanted to get to know him. She’d been observing him in class, and her mind was eager to know what thoughts were swirling through his head. He didn’t talk, but it was the aura, the calm, that told her his mind was turning. Whatever he was thinking, she wanted to be a part of it. Instead of giving him a simple pencil, she gave him a pencil with an offer.
“Do you want to hang out today after school?”
He’d paused, his lips parted with what she was sure was surprise, before he gave a small nod. At the end of the day, she waited up for him, and they walked to her car together. She went right for the chase once their steps were in time.
“Why don’t you talk?” Alice asked as she turned and looked at him. His hair was flat today, she noticed, as his eyes stared straight ahead.
“Do I need to?” he asked, and turned his face to return her stare. Already Alice was intrigued.
“No. I just wondered,” she replied, her eyes turned back to the car. They walk a few steps before he speaks.
“Why do you only observe people?”
“What?” Alice asked, and her steps abruptly stopped. He paused and turned to look at her.
“If you want to say something, then say it.” He watched her mouth open in surprise before a small smirk formed on his lips, and his feet continued to walk.
She brought him to her favorite spot. It was sudden and abrupt, but Alice knew he would enjoy it just as much as she did. She didn’t acknowledge the way her heart melted as he observed their surroundings, his eyes wide at the beauty of the fall leaves, the way he softly stroked one of the bright red leaves as they sat down in the grass, or the way he dipped his fingertips in the stream and glanced over at her, softly smiling into the flowing water. They went to her favorite spot almost every day since then, and slowly he would unravel his thoughts. Every now and then he would comment on the weather or his homework. She would ask a question, and he would answer curtly, his eyes concentrated on his homework the whole time. After a week, he started asking simple questions, and she would answer them simply. They worked in quiet most of the time, but after two weeks of only homework and brief talk, something happened.
Alice shut her English book, and set it in her bag before she zipped it up. He had also finished up, though there was something off as he set his homework inside his bag. She stood up and slung her bag over her shoulder before she was stopped by a soft grip on her hand. She looked back and was surprised to see his hand gripped around her fingers.
“Let’s stay for a little while.” She searched his eyes, finding only a blank stare, so she sat her backpack back on the ground before she sat. They were silent for a few minutes, and she glanced at him in slight confusion during this time. She watched as he took slow breaths, his eyes trained on the sky. His voice broke the silence only moments before she was going to speak up.
“I don’t talk because it’s useless. No one really cares or wants to hear what I’m thinking about. Everyone’s only concern is who’s attending the next party, and who received the worst grade on a test. Not to mention my parents don’t listen to me either. Not when I told them their divorce would affect our family, neither when I told them my brother was traumatized by their fighting.” He kept his eyes trained on the sky, but Alice had turned her eyes to him after only his first few words. She didn’t know what to say, so she instead continued to stare at him as he sighed.
“It’s all a big mess,” he whispered to the sky. They sat like that for a while, and in that time, Alice eventually also turned her face to the sky, to the bright clouds that drifted by. She didn’t know how to explain the mood that day, or what brought him to tell her that information, but before they walked to their separate cars, Alice called out his name and approached him. She took his hand in hers and gave it a comforting squeeze.
“Thank you for telling me this.” He didn’t pull his hand away, and Alice squeezed his hand once more before she turned to her own car.
Only days later, she was surprised to see his smile more often. That must have weighed on him she thought. She would arrive at their spot only to find him already working on his homework, and with a small pat beside him, she knew she was welcomed into his space. He talked more about his life, about his old school. She wouldn’t interrupt him, only to answer him if he had a question. She found pleasure in the way he would tilt his head next to hers when he asked a question, and she secretly leaned her head towards him to smell his sweet shampoo. She was content with each of their evenings together, his light voice weaving with the cold, fall air.
The first time he laughed, she was startled. After a few weeks of listening to him, he’d directed his attention to her and she’d talked about her times in middle school. She started to get excited as she retold a story, and as she reached the climax, she heard a loud noise. She turned beside her, and there he was, a grin on his face as a sparkling sound filtered from his mouth. It was music to her ears, a beautiful sound she’d never heard from him before, and her eyes widened as she realized what she was feeling. As he noticed her stare, his laughs stopped abruptly, a weird feeling enveloping them.
“What?” he asked as his eyes searched hers for an answer.
“I think I’m in love with you,” she whispered, fear in her voice. He stared at her, and all humor left his face. It only took a moment before he was gone, and she sat and listened as his car left the parking lot.
They hadn’t talked for a week, and it killed Alice. She didn’t care about her homeroom, she didn’t care about her grades, she only wanted her friend back. He’d understood her, even when she blurted out her opinions to him. He listened to her, nodded along the way, and gave both his advice and own opinion on her thoughts. To be blunt, he was perfect for her. It didn’t matter to her if he didn’t like her, she just wanted that smile, that sweet smelling shampoo beside her.
“We need to talk,” Alice stated as she stood next to his locker. He didn’t say anything as he filled his backpack, didn’t even give her a glance, and it broke her. Silence truly was her worst enemy now. He took his bag, slung it over his shoulder, and exited the building. Alice followed him out of the building, filled with a burning rage.
If you want to say something, then say it.
“You jerk!” she yelled, a wobble in her voice as a small tear threatened to fall. “You haven’t talked to me in a week!” He slowed to a stop and turned to face her, but she continued. “You don’t have to like me back, I don’t care. Just…,” Alice lowered her head, “just please talk to me.” She whispered the last part, more to console herself than anything, and tears began to fall as she realized something. She was lonely. She’d suppressed it without even knowing. She was an observer because she was scared to speak up, she’d been scared about what others would think of her her whole life. He’d changed that, he’d changed her. He’d made her happy, given her something to look forward to every day. She hadn’t thought about her classmates in days, her thoughts were only clouded with him, and each day she became more curious. Maybe it wasn’t love, but it was something, something she knew could only bring her a better quality of life.
He was there before she even noticed, his fingers tightly gripped between her own as he led her to his car. Her tears wouldn’t stop, as she remembered what it was like before he came into her life, and how she’d reverted back to that state after he’d started ignoring her. She didn’t want to be lonely anymore, she needed him back in her life. He opened his car door and walked over to his own, but Alice only stood there as she wiped at her tears. She tried to tell him she didn’t want to go for a drive, but her sobs wouldn’t allow her. Through her tears, she could see how regretful he felt, and his dark eyes glistened with fear. Even though he hid his emotions, this one action had broken through his mask. She continued to cry in front of him, and he simply stood there, until a small whimper came from her mouth, and he finally moved. He walked around the car and wrapped his arms around her. He bent his head to her ear, and whispered in a heartbroken voice,
“Shh, don’t cry. Please don’t cry.” He continued to hold her, and her eyes began to dry, rooted by his words and embrace. Eventually, she was down to only a few sniffles, but he wouldn’t let go of her.
“I’m really sorry. I didn’t want to ignore you, it’s just… so hard to believe in love these days.” He tightened her grip on her and continued, “My parents, they taught me love doesn’t stay, and I didn’t want you to get hurt, but… I don’t want you to go. I don’t want you to leave. I want to see waiting by the stream, I want to talk about our lives, I want to hear you laugh.” He loosened his grip on her and moved to look into her eyes.
“I don’t know what I want in the future, but right now I want you here with me. Is that enough, at least, for now?” Alice looked into his eyes, a window to his soul that he had graciously shown her, and nodded her head.
Since then, Alice had grown even more fond of him. They started dating months later, and took it slow, as they had agreed together. She learned even more about him every day and delighted in the twinkling laughs that would fill her ears when she hugged him. However this blessing had entered her life was a mystery, but she was thankful each and every day for that one moment, the moment she knew, he was real.